BLACK LIPS - Arabia Mountain LP
Includes download code.
There comes a time in every rock'n'roll band's career when they have to decide whether to get out of the garage or stay mired in the grease. Black Lips seem to want it both ways. With the release of their fourth studio album, 2007's Good Bad Not Evil, the Atlanta rockers saw their audience expand well beyond the garage-punk underground, thanks to a new alliance with Vice that yielded fawning New York Times profiles, Conan O'Brien appearances, and Virgin Mobile ad placements. At the time, a Hives-sized crossover success didn't seem out of the question, but the Lips seemed to handily kibosh that possibility with 2009's 200 Million Thousand, a sprawling mess that seemed designed to prove Black Lips could still out-scuzz and out-slop the lowest of the lo-fi.
The band's decision to record Arabia Mountain with Amy Winehouse producer Mark Ronson is surprising, not because they're at odds aesthetically-- the two camps do share an affinity for 1960s retro recording techniques-- but because of the timing: hooking up with an A-list producer is the sort of move that would've made more sense two years ago, to capitalize on Good Bad Not Evil's mainstream-breaching momentum. But whether they're responding to Vice's vocal dissatisfaction with 200 Million Thousand or following the example of their late friend Jay Reatard-- whose 2009 swan song Watch Me Fall saw him cleaning up his buzzsaw-pop sound without compromising his essence-- Black Lips seem more eager to play ball this time around. And unlike previous cautionary examples of garage-rock bands teaming up with Top 40 hitmakers (the Hives and Pharrell, the Mooney Suzuki and the Matrix), Ronson thankfully doesn't try to make Black Lips into something they're not.