Black Lips

Atlanta originals Black Lips join forces with Fire Records for a new album ‘Sing In A World That’s Falling Apart’ out 24th January via Fire Records/Vice

Boasting an unapologetic southern-fried twang, the twelve track collection marks the quintet’s most pronounced dalliance with country music yet, with a clang and harmony that is unmistakably the inimitable sound and feel of the Black Lips. While the songcraft and playing is more sophisticated, Black Lips were determined to return to the raw sound roots that marked their early efforts. Recorded and co-produced with Nic Jodoin at Laurel Canyon’s legendary, newly reopened Valentine Recording Studios (which played host to Beach Boys and Bing Crosby before shuttering in 1979) without Pro-Tools and other contemporary technology, the band banged the album out directly to tape quickly and cheaply, resulting in their grimiest, most dangerous, and best collection of songs since the aughts.

The band’s stylistic evolution and matured approach to musicianship and writing is, in part, due to the seismic line-up shifts they have undergone over the last half decade. Worn down after a decade of prolific touring and recording, longtime guitarist Ian St Pé left the group in 2014, followed shortly thereafter by original drummer Joe Bradley. Jeweller/actress (and now Gucci muse) Zumi Rosow, whose sax skronk, flamboyant style, and wild stage presence had augmented the team before the duo’s departure, assumed a bigger writing and performance role in their absence.

Soon drummer Oakley Munson from The Witnesses brought a new backbeat and unique backing vocal harmony into the fold. Last year the quintet was rounded out by guitarist Jeff Clarke of Demon’s Claws. The newly forged partnership, all of whom collaborate as songwriters, vocalists, and instrumentalists, has breathed new life into their sound. The result is akin to the radiance of the impulsive, wild nights where you find yourself two-stepping into the unknown.

“Gentleman,” the fifth track from the Black Lips new LP Black Lips Sing As The World Falls Apart kicks in with “This old middle finger has grown fat and tiredfrom flicking the bird.” After two decades of flickin’ the bird, are the perpetualBad Kids of 21stCentury rock’n’roll finally growing up on their 9th studio album?The song craft and playing is definitely more sophisticated. And what could besafer than another love letter to the most self-consciously traditional Americanmusic genre? Country music. Have these provocateurs finally settled down, cometo peace with themselves, and made a record their parents could listen to?Before you go jumping to conclusions without even hearing Sing As The WorldFalls Apart, you gotta remember this ain’t another gaggle of bearded southern sonsfleeing their collective suburban upbringings and collegiate music taste to claimtheir birthright of geographic authenticity. This is not a stab at “pure” or “honest”country music in the usual sense. You won’t find the usual clichés about drinking,honkytonks, and heartbreak enhanced by impeccably recorded pedal steel. Andthis ain’t no uninspired attempt to accurately recreate another time and place.These are after all are the same Black Lips who rescued the waning garage punksubgenre from oblivion. And they achieved this because they made no attempt tosound or dress like their musical predecessors. They were also into contemporaryhip-hop and punk. They weren’t looking back to hide from the modern world.They fell in love with clandestine classic rock and turned it on its head as theypleased. Their mission was not to recreate garage punk note for note (or chord forchord). The opposite of painting by numbers, the teenage quartet was moreinterested in embodying the rebellious spirit of the thing. They also got wastedand broke stuff and made out and made trouble. In other words the Black Lipsfound their own distinctive sound and hence their fame raising their own kind ofcountry hell. They actualized themselves by flicking the bird.

While I recognize the banality of bringing up Old Town Road, I can’t think of abetter way to explain Sing As The World Falls Apart. It’s no secret that genre andsubculture and musical signifiers were disappearing into the horizon long beforeLil Nas X was born. And these rigid 20th Century codes survive today primarily asplaythings and raw materials for new art. The Black Lips were raised on countrymusic and never stopped listening to their Roger Miller and Johnny Cash. But likeLil Nas X, Black Lips are Atlanta misfits with no interest in recreating the music oftheir parents and grandparents or even their peers. Instead they’re having ablast inhaling the diesel smoke as they hitchhike wide-eyed down the lost highwayof their dreams. The twang they grew up with has been a part of who they are theentire time. Lil Nas X and the new Black Lips both barrel through the swingingdoors of the honkytonk just around the corner. They walked by there every day.But this is their first time inside and they know at best the whole place will starethem down. But either way both entities are gonna drink and dance and flirt andmake a spectacle of themselves because they know in their hearts they belong therejust as much as the ornery regulars. Far from calculated, both adventures intocountry feel inevitable. And they radiate the impulsiveness of those wild nightswhere you find yourself two-stepping into the unknown.

Like The Byrds who flirted with pastoral aesthetics every now and then beforegoing all out with the radical departure that is Sweetheart of The Rodeo, the BlackLips have been playing with the genre since including “Sweet Kin” and “Make It”on their first album. But instead of Graham Parsons earnestness, the band iscareful not to even hint at authenticity and wisely treads into their unfeignedrustic romance with the winking self-awareness of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t GoinNowhere,” Rolling Stones “Dear Doctor,” or The Velvet Underground’s“Lonesome Cowboy Bill.”

Like many dramatic moments in the Black Lips career, you could say thestylistic turn of Sing As The World Falls Apart was born out of crisis. Originalguitarist Ben Eberbaugh was tragically killed by a drunk driver on the eve oftheir first tour in December 2002. A year later legendary rock’n’roll writer,editor, and record man Greg Shaw passed away shortly after releasing the BlackLips first LP on his historic Bomp imprint. The band’s rapid stylistic evolutionthrough the ensuing decade of prolific touring and recording took them whereno garage punk band had gone before – huge venues, network television shows,and major music festivals. By 2014 longtime guitarist Ian St Pé split. Originaldrummer Joe Bradley, whose rhythm, songs, and backing vocals were integralto the band’s sound, soon followed St Pé out the door. Guitarist ColeAlexander moved to Los Angeles. Bassist Jared Swilley stayed in Atlanta. Songsand recording sessions were fewer and further between. Making a living theonly way they know how, the Black Lips continued to burn up the road liketheir 20th Century honkytonk and chitlin’ circuit heroes – gaining and losingmembers up and down the big ol’ highway. The lineup changes hit them hard.Plus twenty years of chasing what Genghis Khan called “the eternal blue sky,”along with the relentless party lifestyle that stems from low friends in low placeson every stop of the way, took a huge personal and creative toll on theband. You got the feeling that the Black Lips would soon be nothing more thana memory.

But now what can Cole and Jared to do but sing for a rock’n’roll band? It’s whothey are. Jeweler/actress (and now Gucci muse) Zumi Rosow, who added a dash ofsax skronk, flamboyant style, and wild stage presence to the team before thedeparture of Bradley and St. Pé, assumed a bigger role in their absence. SoonOakley Munson from The Witnesses brought a brand new beat and uniquebacking vocal harmony into the fold. And last year their guitar-slinging amigofrom way back Jeff Clarke of Demon’s Claws completed the lineup. These newadditions aren’t backup musicians. The Black Lips are currently five prolificcollaborating songwriters, voices, and instrumentalists. The newly forgedpartnership is breathing life into their sound, entering uncharted territory, anddemocratically taking everything up a notch with the joy of people who love beingaround one another.

After the long dry spell, the band found itself in a hyper-productive boom andcame up with more than two-albums worth of solid material almostovernight. After three laborious full-lengths recorded by big names like MarkRonson, Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, and Sean Lennon over long stretches of timeat state of the art recording facilities, the Lips decided it was time to return to theirroots of raw sound and self-production. So they loaded up the truck and theymoved to Laurel Canyon’s newly reopened legendary Valentine RecordingStudios.Built in 1946, Valentine was where everyone from Bing Crosby to the Beach Boysrecorded back in the day. But after a long slow decline, in 1979 the studio shut itsdoors to the public. And the entire place was preserved in the amber until theyreopened it a few years ago. Like their early classic LPs, without pro-tools andother contemporary technology, The Black Lips banged out Sing As The WorldFalls Apart directly onto tape quickly and cheaply.The result is the Black Lips grimiest, most dangerous, and best collection of songssince the aughts. Skidding onto the asphalt in a shower of sparks, they confidentlyroll through the first few numbers with unapologetic southern-fried twang. Theirmusicianship and writing has matured and they’re loosely dancing around a newgenre, but the clang and harmony is unmistakably the inimitable sound and feel ofthe Black Lips. While they succeed at holding back and pacing the beast, everynow and then the psycho howl and rubber room madness lurking underneathexplodes into truckstop fireworks. As the clouds glow cartoonish and thekaleidoscopic panorama dissipates before you, the rig screeches and spins and flipsoff the road. Its flaming back half dangles from a desolate overpass as the bandescapes in a cloud of smoke and runs to the safety of an adjacent cornfield. By thetime you’re here at the end of the story, you decide these good ol’ bad kids deservea chance to steal the tractor and bump through the promise of the vast Max Ernstlandscape that awaits. So you let ‘em get away with it.This definitely ain’t your granny’s country album. And conversely this definitelyain’t your mama’s Black Lips. But they’re still flickin’ the bird.

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Represented by: Jens Oberthür

Territories: Germany