Under Review: Black Lips – Arabia Mountain

Through aggressive, bodily fluid-soaked concerts and positively primal recordings, Atlanta’s Black Lips have been in a kind of adolescent holding pattern since their 2003 debut. Eight years, five studio albums, two live recordings and countless singles and EPs later, the leaders of the new garage revolution seem ready to do a little bit of maturing. For most of Arabia Mountain, Black Lips recruited British mega-producer Mark Ronson, who seems to have reveled in this rare opportunity to musically ‘slum it,’ as it were. Like all of Black Lips’ records, Arabia Mountain features songwriting contributions from each founding member. This democratic arrangement has once again led to an eclectic yet cohesive collection of psychedelic, punky garage rave-ups.

Picking Arabia Mountain apart by composer is one way to go about dissecting the disc, as each member is given his chance in the spotlight. Guitarist Cole Alexander’s “Don’t Mess Up My Baby” is a bouncy tale of corruption and his retelling of the story of Spider-Man on “Spidey’s Curse” reinforces the band’s youthful tone. Providing a darker, more menacing edge with songs like the surf-y “Modern Art” and the saxophone-blurting “Mad Dog” is bassist Jared Swilley. Drummer Joe Bradley claims a few numbers, including the delightful single “Go Out And Get It,” and even lead guitarist Ian Saint Pé Brown offers up a tune: the quasi-philosophical “Time.” Part of what makes Arabia Mountain so enjoyable is its pacing: Alexander and Swilley’s songs are often alternated with each other, and the three founding members each get double-shots of their material later on the album. Ronson’s production is rather impressively hands-off, allowing the Black Lips to do what they do best. Group vocals, bubbly melodies and simple riffs make for one joyous listen.

With the exception of a couple of songs, all of Arabia Mountain’s tracks clock in around two and a half minutes. The Black Lips’ brevity is certainly not due to a lack of ideas, as modern living (“Bicentennial Man”) and the loneliness of a baseball mascot (“Noc-a-Homa”) are explored in the songs. At about four and a half minutes, gratingly trippy closer “You Keep On Running” is the only song that overstays its welcome, but Arabia Mountain has more than enough to counteract that one track. The garage revival scene with which the Black Lips are associated is one that deserves more recognition and acclaim than it gets. Arabia Mountain is filled past the brim with hooks and deliciously retro flourishes that it sounds like a familiar friend right from the first spin.

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~ by E. on June 8, 2011.

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