Several weeks ago, I was invited to guitarist Cole Alexander’s house for a late-night listening session the day it was finished — we listened to it on a small boom box (with a $3 thrift store price tag on it) that sat on the floor next to the dog’s water bowl and crate.
At the time, the title for the album had not yet been decided, but they were kicking around a few names. Expensive was my favorite, but I guess they liked Arabia Mountain a little more. The songs we listened to had not yet been mastered, either, and when they played the Mark Ronson-produced numbers next to the stuff that they recorded on their own, the differences were apparent but not overbearing. What really made the record shine was the attention to the song writing itself.
There was vague mention of Lockett Pundt from Deerhunter working on the album, too, and he’s now credited for producing two songs, “Bicentennial Man” and “Go Out and Get It.” But the songs that left the strongest impressions on me include: “Noc-a-homa Cries” (which has since been shortened to just “Noc-a-homa”), “God Lived as a Devil Dog a God Dam Mad Devil Dog” (which has since been shortened to “Mad Dog”), “Dumpster Dive” and “Nude Erection,” but if you believe Vice’s press release, it’s now called “New Direction.”
Within the first few seconds of listening I found myself thinking that this is the record that should have come out after Good Bad Not Evil. The songs are fast and concise without losing the rough edges that define Black Lips’ sound.
When Black Lips dropped, 200 Million Thousand in February, ‘09 I bought the hype, at least for a minute, but not because it was a great album, or even a logical follow-up to older, better records, like Let It Bloom and Good Bad Not Evil. For me 200 Million Thousand was the culmination of a lot of demos, loose ideas and experiments that the group had been kicking around for years. Does anyone remember hanging out during Kirkwood Baller’s Club nights at the old Lenny’s when Cole would play his trucker hip-hop songs over cassette tapes of homemade beats? For me the album invoked that era. There are a couple of worthwhile jams on the record (“Take My Heart,” “Drugs” "The Drop I Hold," “Elijah” and so on), but ultimately, 200 Million Thousand is pretty unmemorable — a speed bump in their career.
Arabia Mountain, at least from my first listen to the raw tracks, shows Black Lips getting back on track with an album that’s a return to form. Part of what will make it a success is Ronson’s influence, there’s no doubt about that. But the group’s willful embrace of song craft is what really gives the record a transcendent quality. To say that these songs show some maturity isn’t misleading, but it misses something fundamental about Black Lips perennially juvenile essence. Regardless, the songs on Arabia Mountain are clean and catchy, and that only gives them the punch they need
Arabia Mountain track list
1. “Family Tree”
2. “Modern Art”
3. “Spidey's Curse”
4. “Mad Dog”
5. “Mr. Driver”
6. “Bicentennial Man”
7. “Go Out And Get It”
8. “Raw Meat”
9. “Bone Marrow”
10. “The Lie”
12. “Dumpster Dive”
13. “New Direction”
15. “Don't Mess My Baby”
16. “You Keep On Running”
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