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Arabia Mountain, the sixth studio album and fourth Vice Records release by the Black Lips, finds the hell-raising Atlanta quartet digging deep into the roots of their exposed-nerve sound and simultaneously exploring surprising new possibilities in their music – or as one of their new songs puts it, “lookin’ in a new direction.” Singer-guitarist Cole Alexander explains, “We tried to do what we do best, and keep it raw, but we also opened up to working with a producer and experimenting with new sounds. We tried to keep doing what we’re doing, while expanding and growing at the same time.”
The Lips – Alexander, singer-bassist Jared Swilley, singer-guitarist Ian St. Pé, and singer-drummer Joe Bradley – had never collaborated with a producer before embarking on their current album. This time, however, the band set out to work with one of the producers on their short list: Mark Ronson, the English producer known for both his sharply-honed solo albums Version and Record Collection and his production work for the likes of Sean Paul, Nas, Adele, Kaiser Chiefs, Duran Duran, Lily Allen, and most notably U.K. soul-pop diva Amy Winehouse’s international breakthrough Back to Black.
“When that came out, we thought, for mainstream pop, this has a cool retro sensibility that we appreciate,” Cole says. “We knew he had the potential to get an older sound. We’re not purists who just want to sound old, but there are certain recording techniques that were used a long time ago that sound really good, and can be used in today’s context. We felt he understood that.”
While the Lips have by no means turned their backs on the storming punk and garage-rock that is the core of their confrontational style, working with Ronson allowed them to work at a more relaxed pace and refine their song-oriented side. “We’ve gone in and done a whole album in a week,” Cole says. “After our last album, we plateaued with that approach. We decided to spend a lot of time and actually work on this record. It ended up taking a year and a half, which is the longest we’ve ever spent. We had some good pop songs in the past, but they got buried in the swampy production. Beefing up the production made a difference. It was a little outside the box for us, and a little outside Mark’s box as well.”
Although the majority of Arabia Mountain was cut with Ronson at MetroSonic Recording Studios in Brooklyn, two songs, “Go Out and Get It” and “Bicentennial Man,” were recorded by Lockett Pundt of Deerhunter in Atlanta. Cole says, “We did those two songs on four-track cassette, and that’s old-school Black Lips – that’s how we first started recording. I just really like cassette sounds. It’s really compact and punchy.”
Arabia Mountain careens through a typically wild catalog of subject matter: touring the Dali Museum, high (“Modern Art”), backwards masking and double suicide (“Mad Dog”), the superhero as molestation victim (“Spidey’s Curse”), the joys and perils of uncooked food (“Raw Meat”), the saga of the Atlanta Braves’ team mascot (“Noc-A-Homa”). “We went further with this record than we ever did in the past,” Cole says. “If you listen to the lyrics to some songs, they’re a little deeper, I think.”
While straight-ahead revved-up rock is not in short supply, the new collection pushes the band’s stylistic boundaries. “Family Tree” found its musical inspiration in a Bolivian folk tune heard on a compilation produced by the eclectic Atlanta label Dust-to-Digital. “Dumpster Dive” is a full-on plunge into Rolling Stones-style country. And “Don’t Mess My Baby” uses tribal drumming to convert a song that began life as Bobby Fuller-styled pop-rockabilly into something approaching South African township jive.
At long last, SUBSONICS have descended again upon the denizens of the steamy rock’n’roll jungle with their first album in five years, "In the Black Spot" (Slovenly Recordings 702-112)! Subsonics have been called the "Best band in Atlanta" by fellow Georgians BLACK LIPS and for good reason: previous works by this beatnik, noir-punk careen machine have left indelible marks, or black spots if you will, on the psyche of big-bam-boom-shang-a-lang rockers the world over during their nearly two-decade tenure. This new album brings more of singer Clay Reed's petulant, masculine-feminine vocals and surreal lyricism, shaken up with his signature garroted guitar, Buffi Aguero’s inventive, incessantly churning drumming, and Rob Delbueno's (Man? Or Astroman?) rolling basement bass.
On this latest spin, previously unwritten, yet eerily familiar, melodies echo in the catacombs of America's soul and ring throughout with a childish enthusiasm, like a funky delinquent's budget bubblegum album. What we really have here is an obsessive, detached drop-in to an after-hours opium den, where Super-8 movies are projected onto a soiled sheet, and the soundtrack is undeniably Subsonics.
Modern rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t get much trashier, dirtier or more frantic than Charlotte, N.C.’s Paint Fumes. These guys seem to live the results of huffing their name, spewing reckless rowdiness with a dizzying fury from every song.
Uck Life is the garage-rock-rooted band’s debut LP, and it’s a balls-to-the-wall explosion of energetic grit and grime. Frontman Elijah von Cramon’s shouts and howls are too fiery to decipher, and paired with the frenetic riffs and drummer Josh Johnson’s relentless fast-paced pounding the sound threatens to blast out your eardrums even at low volume.
Paint Fumes left a mark in my memory at the last Atlanta Mess-Around. It was early afternoon at 529, the daylight still streaming in to the hazy club. But von Cramon and company were long since up an’ at ‘em. Or maybe they hadn’t slept. Who knows? During their raucous set, cans of beer soared above like party missiles, and one of them nailed a friend of mine square in the nose. A girl who was part of the Paint Fumes posse hopped onstage, dancing wildly and whipping her hair about. Within a few seconds she was topless, still hopping around and vibrating like a madwoman. It was the second day of the weekend fest and most folks were still trying to shake off hangovers. Paint Fumes’ set was a kick in the face, a blaring, tinnitus-inducing alarm to wake up the weaklings.
The album is as much a bewildering blitz as their live show. The individual sonic romps are so equally assaulting it’s hard to tell them apart. But that’s not a complaint: It’s rare that an LP is so wholly listenable from start to finish. And there actually are differences between the songs, of course. The title track employs a piercing tone, “Walking Song” shows off a surf-rock side and “999” is dark and bleak in melody like the soundtrack to a midnight tombstone-defacing party in a haunted graveyard. “Sevol Natas” is introduced with a chilled-out air organ but quickly crescendos into Paint Fumes’ signature mania.
That’s mainly what’s so noteworthy about Uck Life. Paint Fumes have crafted a sound that’s all their own, and they’re only on their first album. Few bands are so self-assured and cohesive this early on. One Paint Fumes song is pretty much any other Paint Fumes song. You know it when you hear it – or when your body involuntarily does that rock ‘n’ roll seizure dance, rather.
Imagine someone doing psychedelic yodeling over the sound of a million bees in a jar having the shit shaken out of them. Sounds deep man.