Black Lips' '200 Million': Serviceable
By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Whatever buzz surrounds the Black Lips generally concerns the unruly Atlanta band's frenzied concerts, at which the quartet's feral music is often beside the point. For the rowdy, raunchy garage-rock revivalists have become semi-famous and wholly notorious for their alcohol-fueled onstage antics: Nudity! Beer bottles smashed on guitars! Acts not mentionable in a family newspaper! No wonder they're barred from a handful of U.S. nightclubs.
Shortly before the release of their terrific new album, "200 Million Thousand," there was even a story circulating -- with a publicist's push, of course -- that the Black Lips had just been run out of India after doing some apparently unseemly things on stage. (When asked by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the veracity of the story, which had something to do with full-frontal nudity, as well two members of the Black Lips locking lips, bassist-singer Jared Swilley told his hometown paper that the full-frontal bit might have been made up. But, he added, "the India thing is still kind of a blur.")
The shtick keeps on coming on "200 Million Thousand," what with Swilley, guitarist-singer Cole Alexander and the other boys in the band singing, mumbling, shouting and even rapping about their bad behavior and worse reputations: One lyric places the group (or "BlackLips.com," anyway) in the company of the atomic bomb and Vietnam.
But behind the outrageous act, there's actually some music worth recommending, as the album stands on its own -- albeit precariously, while leaning on a wall for support, as it's the often-woozy sound of a seemingly buzzed band creating some seriously intoxicating music.
The Black Lips specialize in what the band calls "flower punk": trippy, thrashy music that adds surprising pop touches to a jittery, ramshackle rock-and-roll base before becoming smudged with hazy psychedelia.
"Starting Over" sounds like the Byrds on a serious bender, what with its chiming jangly guitars paired with bleated and mumbled lead vocals and sweet-and-sour harmonies, all of which give way to a cacophonous climax.The lurching two-chord riff of "Body Combat" sounds like something out of the Kinks' playbook; its howling vocals and swirling psychedelic choruses most certainly do not.
"Drugs" pairs a driving surf-rock riff with a bright girl-group melody and then further brightens an otherwise scuzzy song about prostitutes and drugs by injecting it with handclaps. "I'll Be With You" is doo-wop gone garage-rock.
The album is filled with effects-laden vocals and guitars, sludgy bass lines, droning harmonies and wild sound effects, including a swooshing keyboard on standout rocker, "Short Fuse." There's also maniacal laughter on "Trapped in a Basement," which is freaky enough as it is, with a detuned piano line that suggests Ennio Morricone on mescaline.
It's dirty, druggy music -- the kind you don't bring home to mother. Unless mom is a fan of the Troggs, the 13th Floor Elevators, the Sonics, Velvet Underground and the Wu-Tang Clan.
Yes, the hip-hop group: On "The Drop I Hold," the album's most striking track, Alexander gets in touch with his inner-MC, spitting a drowsy rap over the sort of languorous, echoing, horrorcore soundscape that was a Wu-Tang specialty in the 1990s.
It's all dubby drum loops, spooky screams, minor chords and unlikely samples. In this case, it's a snippet from the Jonestown Massacre death tape.
Wild things, indeed.