Black Lips Black LipsArabia Mountain
I was first introduced to the Black Lips by a cooler-than-thou New Yorker, as an impressionable under-graduate. In all honesty, the drawling proclaimer left more of a lasting impression than the proclaimed. Aside from a vague (dis)interest in their Jack-Ass style theatrics (spitting into each others mouths mid gig, puking/urinating on stage, playing their guitars with their penis’ and other such sophisticated delights), the Black Lips had left a relatively minor mark on my consciousness. I imagine, however, that this is about to change – “Arabia Mountain” is really rather good.
As one might expect from a Black Lips release, “Arabia Mountain” is self-consciously retro in its aesthetic. You can trace The Black Lips lineage with ease - from their garage rock roots to their lo-fi leaves (with a few doo-wop branches between the two). Accordingly the album opens with “Family Tree”, two and a half minutes of hip-shaking glory: tight drums, a discordant sax and an achingly affected vocal swagger. “Can I take you out / Out to the family tree?” asks the chorus. I defy you to resist the invitation.
“The Lie” marks the peak of their retro-active experimentations. An unsettling, descending riff nods to proto-punk pioneers The Monks, whilst the guitar sound is reminiscent of early Clapton (with the noodle dial muted to a level permissible in the 21st Century).
Mark Ronson’s relatively hands off approach to the production works wonderfully. He’s indulged their scuzzy sensibilities: but the quality is crisp and the arrangement accomplished. Deerhunter’s Lockett Pundt also makes a notable appearance as guest producer on two tracks, including “Bi-Centennial Man” – a foot-stomping standout, recorded on a six-track.
However “Arabia Mountain” is far from an exercise in vintage indulgence, the Black Lips are referencing the past without discounting the future. “Modern Art” – a Jeffrey Lewis-esque homage to visiting Art Galleries inebriated - comes complete with gleaming glock and indie infused loveliness in the vocal melody. Consequentially the key line “turn around, start it over let’s begin”, adopts a perhaps unintentional significance. Similarly the buoyant nostalgia of “New Direction” wouldn’t sound place out of place on a 555 compilation – and as those purveyors of the past appreciate, you have to move forward before you can look back.