Black Lips, “Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art?”

Black Lips
Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art?
VICE
7/10

Grungy Atlanta-based garage punks Black Lips have gone the morally questioning, holy rolling, soul-filled route before on albums such as We Did Not Know the Forest Spirit Made the Flowers Grow and the now-decade-old Good Bad Not Evil. Singer-guitarist Cole Alexander and singer-bassist Jared Swilley have always liked their dense, noisy sound filled with absolutes, and they only allow gray-area ideals to creep in fleetingly. The team’s last album, 2014’s Underneath the Rainbow—their last before the departure of longtime members Ian St. Pé (guitar) and Joe Bradley (drums)—was a wee bit too heavy and crunchy for its own good, so perhaps a lighter touch was required.

What makes Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art?, their new album—and first with returned early years guitarist Jack Hines and several new Lips (including skronky saxophonist Zumi Rosow)—bolder in the production department is the occasionally floral (albeit lo-fi) arrangements and the thick avant-psych ambience of producer Sean Lennon. With the breezily psychedelic Squatting in Heaven,” the grouchy but graceful skuzz-smash “Can’t Hold On,” and several swirling “interludes” such as the cleverly worded, introductory “Overture: Sunday Mourning,” droning crooner Alexander seems to be letting the Aquarian sunshine in aplenty with Lennon’s finger pressed heavily on the echo button.

There’s buoyancy and shockingly tight musicianship to Black Lips’ prattling-on proceedings here that you won’t often find elsewhere in the garage band’s catalog. Even subjects as mundane as dead-end suburbia come alive with swinging avarice and contempt on “The Last Cul de Sac.”

Still, that doesn’t explain the record’s best song: the Cramps-like “Occidental Front,” a rhythmically galloping track with a molten-lava-thick baritone sax line (think the first Psychedelic Furs album) made all-the-more weirder by Yoko Ono, effects-laden, wordless moan haunts the track like Marley’s ghost.

God’s art hasn’t been this scary since Hieronymus Bosch.

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