A few weeks ago I had the urge to go out to Second Spin in Costa Mesa and purchase a Black Lips album or two on CD to add to the collection. Originally, I intended to grab a hard copy of their third album, Let It Bloom. Unfortunately it was not in stock, but the newest album of theirs, Arabia Mountain, which was recently release on June 11th, was sitting solo with a red “sale” sticker on the front. I don’t usually spend $13 plus tax on a CD, but I trusted that the boys from Atlanta would not fail me, so I grabbed it, forked over the cash, and stuck it into the mouth of my vehicle’s CD player during the duration of my drive home. On the first listen, it sounded like trash. Rough edges, low fidelity; all I could hear were foreign incantations created from the far reaches of someone else’s brain; exactly what the rebellious foursome of the Black Lips strive for. I gave it another listen. And then another, and another, and another. Each tone became more familiar, it all began making sense, and the messy façade finally fell to reveal an entire album packed with potent lyrics, and perfectly composed pop-structure songs, all of which contain a darkly sarcastic perspective of what it means to be part of the contemporary youth culture today.
Opening track, “Family Tree,” sets the tonality with a Tarantino-esque twist that seamlessly slides into a morbid psychedelic-pop rhythm. As vocalist and guitar player, Cole Alexander, coerces the audience, “It feels so cold down by the family tree….Can I take you out? Come on out with me, let me take you out to the family tree,” a vision of an old and twisted oak tree covered in darkness, hunching over an array of family tombstones enters my mind. Definitely not a place where I am interested in treading. Continuing to track number two, “Modern Art,” is by far the most standout single of the whole album. The lyrics explain an electric tale of what happens when drugs and art exhibits collide, and the chosen chord progressions make the blood bubble in a way that feels a little like the euphoric feeling of actually being on some sort of upper.
Next is the deeply romantic recount of Peter Parker’s (aka Spiderman’s) upbringing in the song “Spidey’s Curse.” This is sure to give any comic-book fan a reason to loop the song on repeat and admire the endearing sympathy over and over. Rounding out the top four tracks is “Mad Dog,” a must-listen with its trippy orated intro and psychedelic sax hook filled with creepy minors meant to conjure demons. Although the rest of the compositions are equally as interesting as any others mentioned above, “Bicentennial Man,” with its Link Wray-type guitar licks, the super catchy single “Time,” and the completely positive vibe of “New Direction” dominate the top spots for potential singles. Final favorite is “Don’t Mess Up My Baby,” a hilarious and affectionate tale of modern love, in which the female “accidentally” trips out on her lover’s drug concoctions time after time, until Alexander explains that it’s time to “settle down and have some kids because your brain is fried.” The double entendre of “my baby” encompasses both the frisky female, and her potential offspring.
A handful of the collection of memorable story-songs are engineered by Costa Mesa’s very own Mike McHugh at The Distillery, and produced by pop-master, Mark Ronson. Arabia Mountain, released by the Vice Records label, is the most mature and structured album from the Black Lips so far, and this collection of songs will inevitably shoot the band out of the underground and towards the general public of music appreciators in the next coming months.