By Ryan Coghill
A year-and-a-half ago, I had never heard of the Black Lips. So when I was asked to cover their show at The Casbah in February of 2010, I did not know what to expect. I had read they were a “self-proclaimed flower punk band.” I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but I assumed it must be a prettier light-hearted version of punk. Does that even make sense? I went through a punk phase just like most the other kids in jr. high, however it was never my forte. So not being too knowledgeable on the genre, my perception of punk bands was that they are made up of musicians who just don’t give a shit and love to throw it in your face with force using simple, loud, repetitive riffs.
Due to this understanding of what punk should be, the idea of “flower” and “punk” together was difficult to comprehend. Mellow hippies and punkers don’t usually see eye to eye. Regardless of this assumption, I understood the Black Lips’ approach to punk rock once I sat down and listened to the tunes. It only took a few tracks to conclude that the majority of “punk” resides in the vocal angst, and the “flower” is a blend of lo-fi ’60s psychedelic rock with just enough aggression to fall into the punk rock genre. This makes for a comfortable combination for those who are usually turned off by the anger with which punk is associated. Needless to say, I was turned on.
The Black Lips’ latest album, Arabia Mountain, released on June 7, does their “flower punk” sound justice. Having never worked with a producer on their previous five albums, the Lips brought in Mark Ronson to collaborate. This addition to the creation of recording has given the Lips an undeniably cleaner sound and tighter rhythm than before. The vocals are also smoothed out, even with a few harmonizations that are quite pleasant, especially since a lot of punk vocals can get annoying if not delivered with the right ease. This is not to say the yelling groans of punk are not present on the album. The beef is salted just enough to fuse punk roots with a more controlled sound.
Although control is present on Arabia Mountain, it’s doubtful the Black Lips have strayed far from their savage stage antics. During their last show at The Casbah, guitarist and vocalist Ian Saint Pé spit beer into the crowed, swung his Fender Strat at an empty beer can and didn’t mind that there were three drunk girls dancing on the cramped stage. That’s pretty punk.
Black Lips will be playing San Diego on Thursday, June 9, at The Casbah. It will be interesting to see how their mischief plays out with a more relaxed set of songs.