May 24, 2011

Album Review: Black Lips' Arabia Mountain

Half of Black Lips' reputation is built off their consistently good collection of bold garage punk while the other half comes from everything they do once they get on (or even off) stage. Like a well-oiled machine that creates a fun listen and some chaotic live moments, both have complimented each other greatly over the band's career in a way that defines who they are. Given the unpredictable nature of the band, it really shouldn't have floored anyone when the four-piece flower punks announced they would be teaming up with Brit pop producer Mark Ronson on their sixth LP. The big question this raised was how the oddball work marriage would affect the band's sound and in turn, impact Black Lips' cred altogether. To date, each of their albums has been soaked in muddy lo-fi that reflects their grimy on-stage antics. Ronson on the other hand is the complete antitheses of this, having made glossy smash hits for UK songstresses Amy Winehouse, Adele and Lily Allen. The short answer to this question is that Mark Ronson has given Black Lips their most polished effort to date on Arabia Mountain, but don't think for one second he could tame these bad kids. While LP 6 from Black Lips is bloated at a hefty 16 tracks (which at times can meander,) it's through and through Black Lips' most definitive album yet.

That's pretty evident in the turbulent lead single, "Modern Art" or volatile opener, "Family Tree" which both channel the energy of "O Katrina!" (That latter even includes a snarling sax solo during the breakdown -- a new trick by the Black Lips that makes a smoother appearance in "Mad Dog.) There's also the spooky Moog-y nods to psych-pop icons, The 13th Floor Elevators ("Mr. Driver," "The Lie" and "You Keep On Running.") For those who enjoy Cole Alexander's perverse sense of humor, the track "Spidey's Curse" tells listeners the untold story about Peter Parker being the victim of some inappropriate touching as a child (who knew?) Even Arabia Mountain's initial ramshackle surf-rock previews, "Go Out and Get It" and "New Direction," find new life when heard in the context of this wide spread of styles.

Despite some unnecessary filler toward the tail end or the fact that Jared Swilley's signature 'stache is nowhere to be found these days, Arabia Mountain is a novel move by Black Lips at a point where their position in the world of indie trends is waning. Sure, they could have easily made this album by themselves with similar results. Instead, Mark Ronson does a decent job at showing the world a much more tighter, crisp and revived side to Black Lips' sound while allowing them to keep their balls in tact.

Black Lips' Arabia Mountain will be released June 6, 2011 on Vice Records.

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