Genre: Garage Rock/Punk
Origin: Atlanta, GA
The cover of Black Lips latest release, Arabia Mountain, has the band posed in obnoxious outfits amidst floating, vivid, almost drug-induced clouds and half-naked women wearing masks. This is and always has been the attitude of Black Lips, a band that doesn't take things too seriously. From the lo-fi and raw productions to the "Let's have a drink and sing a song" vibe, they've seemed to capture an essential "spirit" found within the comfort of just rocking the fuck out in their own undivided space. Nothing entirely odd about that, right?
Yet on this cover, the band looks out into the distance, as if fixated on an object or a person. Perhaps the thing in question is Mark Ronson, the hot-shot producer looking to give Black Lips a discovery of clean production while still maintaining their eclectic attitudes. You would think this move toward a more "pop" production status would be commercial suicide, but thankfully, with the brighter sound, better atmosphere and more intelligible lyrics, it may be the smartest move the band has made yet.
Arabia Mountain is set out to give you a break and have a drink, bringing along your friends for good measure. There is a lot more coming out of Black Lips' amps than you'd originally think from their past albums like 200 Million Thousand or even Good Bad Not Evil, especially now that you can hear close to everything from the flowery guitar and drums to the saxophone and theremin (courtesy of one Sean Lennon). Nothing is inherently lost by going through this bigger method of maintaining quality if they can still bring the fun, punk personality. Black Lips greatly succeed in that regard.
There are just a lot of great hooks on these tracks. "Modern Art," "Mad Dog," "Bone Marrow," "Mr Driver," to name a few. They provide a kind of "Summer Mixtape" for those looking to spend their days by the pool and have their friends attend. Even "Spidey's Curse," perhaps the most "pop" song on the album, features some really chill vibes even when talking about Peter Parker and Spider-Man. "Dumpster Dive" is also equally lyrical, in that it really talks about what the title implies - living in a dumpster.
Most of the songs on here are pretty good, though there are a few that range somewhere from good to merely decent. Songs like "Raw Meat" and "New Direction," as fine as they are sonically, just sound familiar. They come off as some kind of song you'd hear off a greatest hits compilation of The Ramones or The Clash. The influence is understandable (if that was even their aim), but they don't make the songs fit in their own realm.
Although about 90% of the songs do not run longer than three minutes, Arabia Mountain still feels long at sixteen tracks. There are fantastic tracks toward the end of the album, including the aforementioned "New Direction" and the explosion of joy in "Noc-A-Homa," but the sound does somewhat lose steam. That isn't to say that any of these songs are "filler" because all of the songs on here are fine additions to the album, but it almost makes you wish an EP or new album was cut from it.
Either way, Arabia Mountain's pros greatly outweigh the cons. It's by far not an album a Black Lips fan should doubt in any case. Black Lips keep what they've always had and store it at the core, but now it sounds like this is what they've been trying to achieve since their start. Garage rock or not, cleaner production and personal freedom in partial thanks to Mark Ronson, Arabia Mountain is admirably celebratory.
Black Lips - "Modern Art"
Black Lips - "Mad Dog"
Arabia Mountain is now available from Vice Records.