Atlantan, psych-rock garage dudes Black Lips are the ultimate boy band gone bad. Their gigs are infamous for being a raucous spew of noise in squalid, low-ceilinged sweatboxes. The crazy, energetic shows have frequently included vomiting, urination, nudity, fireworks, flaming guitars and, incredibly, a chicken. The band were even chased out of India after exposing their penises on stage; frontman Cole Alexander likes to play his guitar solos hands free, if you know what I mean.
Black Lips capture the DIY garage band aesthetic perfectly, but few groups could be so chaotic and at the same time so exciting. The band made sloppiness their style of choice in their first five albums and during their shows you could be forgiven for confusing what you’re witnessing with just a bunch of overwhelmed teenagers going crazy on their instruments in a friend’s garage. But contrary to the live performance chaos is Black Lips’ clever musical experiments and subtle harmonies that prove they’re far beyond youthful amateurs.
More recently, it seems that the band have abandoned the slapdash recording style they’ve opted for in the past in favour of a more commercial sound and (thankfully) the group’s outrageous stage antics have also now taken a back seat. Their sixth studio album Arabia Mountain is a 16-track offering, co-produced by Mark Ronson and Lockett Pundt of Deerhunter, and it bears all the hallmarks of other classic punk records such as the Stooges’ Fun House.
The band’s new commercial sound is indicative of wanting their music to reach a wider audience, but it’s evident they want to keep some level of integrity. The band may have gone more mainstream but they’re doing it on their own terms: writing songs about drunken Native Americans, dumpster diving and experimenting with country sounds.
Beneath the clamour, the Black Lips are a pop-punk band producing excellent quality music and setting the standard high for others. Their new album has all the features of other much-celebrated works: conciseness, melody and bags of personality.
Black Lips, May 6th, Bikini (please note that the date and venue published in the May 2011 edition of the magazine were incorrect. We're very sorry for any inconvenience caused)