by / June 9th, 2011 /

Black Lips – Arabia Mountain

 1/5 Rating

(Vice Records)

They’ve puked, pissed, fought and kissed on stage. They’ve been barred from venues, towns and entire countries. They’ve a reputation to live up to. But this is the point where many notorious bands falter. You’re a mess, yes, and we love you for it, but must the music always suffer? Far far from it.

The vocal kicks in ten seconds into the intro of ‘Family Tree’. No dilly dalling then, it’s straight down to business. So much so that before you know it you’re a few tracks in, safe in the knowledge that the preceding songs were good but unable to ponder for long. ‘Spidey’s Curse’ sounds like a Beach Boys breakup song played by drunk kids, lamenting the great responsibility of one of the finest super heroes of all time. ‘Mad Dog’ barks like a rabid psych-punk terrier. Already the change in production is notable. The songs aren’t wildly different from their older work but there’s just so much more going on in the sound’s subconscious. Bringing Mark Ronson into the fold was an ambitious and risky move, given that Black Lips music tends to work on the level that it’s pure pop music stripped out and played on a basic and rudimentary level. Taking in one of modern pop’s biggest producers was a strange turn, but he’s come up trumps, managing to layer rough sounds without it sounding confused or overproduced.

Arabia Mountain is positivity personified. It’s a feelgood celebration of the dregs of society. It’s feelgood summertime ’60s Spector-pop without the twee often associated with modern lo-fi pop. They have a sensitive side but they’re not sissies. They are the cool kids. You want to be in their gang. Time and Dumpster Dive are straightforward rock n’ roll anthems. Rock ‘n’ roll anthems alright, but I think it would be amiss to dismiss this as derivative in any way. Musicians have been recreating rock n’ roll since Buddy Holly. Rock ‘n’ roll is a beast that rumbles on. Reviving grunge for example would be another matter but this is getting back to the basics of what all pop music is based on (however loosely) and doing something cool with it.

The best is saved for last, ‘Noc-A-Homa’ will have you snarling at strangers and airdrumming in traffic. ‘Don’t You Mess With My Baby’ is a head nodder, a toe tapper, a true bop-along. I suppose this is the album all over. It’s a mess of handclaps, singalongs, ’60s girl-group sensibilities, lazy snarling lyrics and delivery and more hooks than a pirate convention. The production is outstanding and the songs themselves are aural narcotics. The aim of the game is to avoid the unnecessary like a bad rash, get in and out like an assassin, while devastating ears like an airstrike of fire and flowers. Black Lips already were one hell of a band, but six albums in they’ve found an even stronger stride.

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