Black Lips – Arabia Mountain (Music Review)

Arabia Mountain cover

Black Lips - Arabia Mountain

Forget people like Kurt Vile; garage rock may be the true heir to 90’s slacker scene. The lo-fi sound and unassuming production make for an exciting contrast with the craft that the best performers bring. Black Lips may not sound anything like Pavement or Sonic Youth, but they invoke the same impression of being both your stoner friends and musical geniuses.

The breadth of sound on Black Lips’ Arabia Mountain is impressive. The gentle introduction to “The Lie” recalls “Stairway To Heaven” more than the demon god that the song is about, and “Time” has the freewheeling poppiness of a subversive Beach Boys. “Dumpster Dive” begins in a sloppy garage-folk style, but throws in piano flairs once the band starts rocking out. “Bone Marrow” is a post-breakup pep talk driven by clapping hands and heavily reverbed drums. They pull from all elements of rock tradition, from classic pop to modern metal and even to the creepy lounge music of “Noc-A-Homa”.

The aren’t limited by any concern for accuracy: A song about how Spider-Man “kills them dead” is followed by one celebrating the satanic messages hidden in rock music. However, their subject matter varies widely, with no theme (from women to drugs to everyday life) coming up enough to wear out its welcome. Each song has something to say – not always anything sophisticated, but none are a waste of time either.

Generally, though, the songs start out at their most creative and all veer towards the same territory by the middle: Chanting out enthusiastic but flat vocals along with music which tries to match the singer’s cadence with a surprising simplicity. At times, they could practically be a satire of spastic high schoolers unsure how to write songs. Fortunately, this sound is more of a home base for the band than a crutch. They circle around that simple territory, but always return to whatever specific style they are playing with at the moment – and their ability to write complex songs is evident, if obscured.

With sixteen tracks, it’s impressive that the band never seems to repeat themselves. They also avoid any missteps, with the possible exception of the slower space rock of “You Keep On Running”. Arabia Mountain is a fun journey through the possibilities offered by garage rock. If no individual song seems to contain enough promise for a full career, the overall effect is much more satisfying.

Grade: B


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