Black Lips release their 7th album March 18 via Vice, brandishing more of the Southern rock that built their reputation as garage hedonists. “Underneath The Rainbow” sees a more mature and roots-leaning version of their younger psych-garage-punk selves; after a 3 year wait, Blacks Lips may have mellowed but their sound still vibrates with the buzz and strum of well-worn, 60’s-tinged anthems.
Though not as diverse as their last LP “Arabia Mountain” it is good; a more consistent outing with perhaps less range. Sharp and sometimes dark lyrics are sung languidly over vintage tones and bright hooks; blues-tinged country-infused riffs are a time capsule to 60’s b-sides, but with 70’s punk energy. Black Lips always have that wavering and oscillating feel, with a tight meets loose style marked by swerving guitar lines and lazy vocal drawls. Stage antics and immaturity have been the band’s touchstone; stories include chickens, vomit, onstage makeouts and getting kicked out of various countries. “Underneath the Rainbow” brings less shake and strum and is more polished than some of their previous lo-fi outings.
First track “Drive By Buddy” is a perfect tour song with a distinctive backroad beat. Classic minimalist guitar tones are rounded out with reverb and warm, full sounds. Next is “Smiling”, the pop-punk prison tune of the album, based on bassist Jared Swilley’s little visit to the big house. “Make You Mine” whines and jangles along, quick-witted and tempoed with a side of harmonicas, cymbal crashes and guitar gestures. However, the album doesn’t really get going for me until the fourth track, “Funny”. Laid back shout-sing vocals, with clean rootsy guitars slung languidly across the a landscape of swirling fuzzed-out riffs, it manages to be both unconcerned and spirited, ending with break downs, chop and change, all hammer and axe. The track has a certain Black Keys flavour, thanks in part perhaps to their blues-buff co-producer, the Keys’ Patrick Carney.
On “Dorner Party” the songwriting is tight and production is bright, it’s fairly fun and listenable but the song seems somehow formulaic. “Boys in the Wood” welds unhurried octave-echoed vocals to brash lurch and sneer rhythm, typical Southern swing, Skynard-esque vocal flourish and a way with wordcraft: “Been drowned in white lightning, Gonna let it soak”. The band has seen difficult times in the three years leading up to this release, and that comes across in “Do the Vibrate” and “Dandelion Dust”, both darker tracks. Channeling a cocky creepiness reminiscent of Rocket From the Crypt and a raw Blues Explosion-esque ferocity, the Lips don’t mess around on these two. The strut and swagger of “Vibrate” will translate well to their infamous partyband live show. My favourite, “Dog Years”, is reminiscent of early Lou Reed. The track best represents their own brand of “flowerpunk”, like a 60’s Haight-Ashbury rocker meeting a 70’s Reed for a late night Lower East Side brawl. Cheekily funny lyrics accompany downtempo chorus and hoots: “I love you but your heart is made of of gristle, I love you like a missile, When I call I always whistle.”
“Underneath the Rainbow”is a more refined version of Black Lips’ garage rattle. Their tour starts late March, and expect a wild show. Sometimes when there’s a Southern preacher in the family you have to onstage-vomit, kiss your same-sex bandmate and moon the crowd.