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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Black Lips: We Did Not Know...


BLACK LIPS: WE DID NOT KNOW THE FOREST SPIRIT MADE THE FLOWERS GROW (2004)

1) M.I.A.; 2) Time Of The Scabs; 3) Dawn Of The Age Of Tomorrow; 4) Nothing At All; 5) 100 New Fears; 6) Stranger; 7) Juvenile; 8) Notown Blues; 9) Ghetto Cross; 10) Jumpin' Around; 11) Super X-13; 12*) Hope Jazz.

With a title like that, one would probably expect an album by the likes of The Animal Collective — although, on second thought, The Animal Collective would probably find it too blunt to title their album with a direct quotation from Princess Mononoke. But no, Black Lips are not going all-out psychedelic on our ears (except for maybe the last «hidden» track, which I will get around to in a few moments). Instead, they latch this title on what is their shortest, noisiest, messiest re­cord ever, consequently, for some — the best album these guys ever made.

Perhaps it was the tragic death of their guitarist that infuriated the Lips so much, they swore to themselves not just to «carry on», but to carry on with an acute vengeance. The record certainly takes no prisoners. «Production» here is practically non-existent; if someone told me the band had lost the master tapes and had to substitute them with a bootleg recording that one of their fans made on an old cassette player, lurking in one corner of the studio behind a mixing console, I would be inclined to believe it. «Hooks» are out of the question, although, quite by accident, some of the ringing guitar lines happen to be a tad more memorable than others. Vocals, even though they are still emulating the nasal whine of old time garage rockers rather than the word­less barking of classic punkers, are unsegmentable into individual words. And so on.

While I appreciate the gesture, I do not quite see the point of carrying garage revivalism into this particular direction. There is nothing fresh or overwhelmingly exciting about noise-rock these days — the novelty has worn off, and nowadays, every lo-fi band putting gurgling fuzz on three chords may be suspected of simply covering a lack of inspiration, instead of making a statement that has meaning both for them and for us. «Fans of the Stooges might like this», I am told, but I do not quite get it — why not go directly to the source, then? When the Stooges made this kind of music, it was a D. H. Lawrence-style act of suicidal bravery, and you could feel that vibe right through the speakers. The Lips go for that noise thing in complete confidence, and the only vibe I feel is boring backyard hooliganry, perhaps alleviated with a slight touch of humor.

Repeated listens do reveal that the album is not just one monolithic slab of lo-fi noise. The Lips value emotional and technical diversity enough to move from pure garage ('Time Of The Scab') to ominous songs of rebellion ('Dawn Of The Age Of Tomorrow') to slide-driven blues-punk ('Stranger') to organ-driven rhythm-and-blues ('Notown Blues'); there is even a brief acoustic in­terlude ('100 New Fears'), during which they try to sing something that approaches medieval folk, backed by female harmonies and a harpsichord (!). But I cannot help but take offense at how they completely refuse to work on these songs. Each track is a ragged skeleton, barely covered with a few lumps of flesh and a few threads of skin, waving helplessly in the wind. If you have not sa­tisfied your appetite with this style after a whole decade of lo-fi en vogue, be my (their) guest. If you have, there is no crime in skipping this record altogether, as one of those youthful excesses that the youths in question just had to get out of their system, in order to go to better things.

Actually, I only find purpose in the last track — six minutes of avantgarde doodling, set to a jaz­zy (almost lounge-jazzy at that) rhythm section. After all, free-form improv is always free-form improv — one might unexpectedly fall upon exciting combinations of sound, or one might not, but even if one doesn't, the goal is still respectable. It would be a miracle if the Lips did, and, ex­pectedly, they do not, but it's always nice to hope for miracles, which is probably why the track's secret name is 'Hope Jazz'. Every other bit of noise on the album, however, seems pre-planned, which makes the effect even more disappointing.

Resumé of the day: I can only recommend this for people whose minds are so far removed from my own that I wouldn't even want to begin to recommend them anything. In other words, as you may have guessed, it's a thumbs down all the way.


Check "We Did Not Know..." (CD) on Amazon
Check "We Did Not Know..." (MP3) on Amazon

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