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Album Review: Black Lips’ ‘200 Million Thousand’

It’s a trend that has been seen many times before.

Indie rock bands with a taste for the lo-fi side of life tend to find motivation and/or sobriety by their third or fourth album and ultimately betray the very DIY production values and messy antics that gave them a name to begin with.

We’ve witnessed it with The Strokes and Kings of Leon just in the past few years, and while the new sounds and neat packages don’t always disappoint, they nevertheless feel a bit safer in their attempts at grandeur, as if fun is the necessary victim of higher production values and more complex artistry.

On their fourth album, 200 Million Thousand, Black Lips throw up a big fat middle finger to the very idea of more production, opting instead to lay down a thick layer of scuzz over the entire track list and proving that a band need not grow up, sonically or mentally, to show maturity.

On their last release, 2007’s Good, Bad, Not Evil, the band was able to clean things up a bit without losing their signature garage-psychrock sound that always seemed to be coming from a dank basement circa 1967. Nevertheless, in its desire to prove itself eclectic the album instead came off as scattershot, presenting a track list of mostly winners with some duds and joke songs that, though superficially entertaining, warranted skipping over after two or three listens.

Previous releases provided more consistent atmospheres but were similarly uneven and sometimes too messy, even by lo-fi standards. 200 Million Thousand seems to find a healthy balance between the two and, more importantly, resists fucking around (with the exception of the “rap” song near the end, “The Drop I Hold”), the result being the group’s most consistently entertaining album to date.

Though the highs may not be as high there are also no real lows to speak of. Instead the Black Lips focus on fleshing out their sound in lieu of running from it by finding inspiration in the darker corners of their music. “Take My Heart” and “Let It Grow” sound as though they could’ve been seedy gems on the group’s 2004 album Let It Bloom, while “Trapped in a Basement” evokes Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (of “I Put a Spell On You” fame).

Things remain dark, especially on the second half of the album, but never lose the fun sense of spontaneity that no doubt spawns from the band’s stubborn adherence to live recording sessions.

This stubbornness may, in fact, give insight into how the group manages to remain fresh without significantly altering their sound; The Black Lips know that they’re making dank, dirty, scuzzy rock music, and that they don’t need to add production or kill the fun to make it good.

Vice Music

-P.J. Decoteau, Staff Writer