Release Date: May 5, 2017
Record label: Vice
First coming to the attention in 2003 with their self-titled debut, they've never been a band to shy away from going the extra distance to make a long lasting impression. Satan's graffiti or God's art sees them strengthen their reputation for writing quick witted, three minute punk steeped in good ol' traditional American rock 'n' roll values. The jazz-tinged brass inflections and smooth groove of "Overture" slowly usher the album in, before the raucous and galloping rhythm of "Occidental Front" jumpstarts it to life.
Black Lips have never given a lot of fucks, but since working with Mark Ronson on 2011's criminally underrated Arabia Mountain, they've made a concerted effort to clean up their sound. And because of this there's a certain sense of falsity that pervades this album, as though even the scuzzier cuts have been carefully constructed that way, unlike the old ramshackle approach where you could practically hear the shitty equipment falling apart as they used it. It's as though they're going for the 'messy look', but they had to get up an hour early to make it just right.
Vice slyly drops the newest effort by Atlanta flower punk provocateurs the Black Lips this coming Friday, ironically, Cinco De Mayo. Chock full of their custom garage gold, raunchy R&B, and just plain lack of giving a flying shit, Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art? is hotter than jalapeno and pico de gallo. Harkening back to personal favorite and Black Lips classic Good Bad Not Evil from a sonic standpoint, the guitars are ablaze, and the grime comes in droves.
The Black Lips have been many things over their 18-year run: insolent garage-rockers and innocent pop balladeers; good-ol'-boy country crooners and bad-trip trainwrecks; lo-fi dirtbags and hi-fi hustlers. But ever since their four-piece line-up solidified in 2004--just in time for their first great record, Let It Bloom--the band always exuded a fraternal, last-gang-in-town sense of solidarity. Their catalog may be defined by dramatic shifts in fidelity and focus from album to album, but you never doubted their commitment to seeing each one through.
Nothing says 'we've matured beyond our early antics of setting fire to our guitars and almost getting arrested in India for todgers-out onstage "homosexual acts" more than making a record with the offal-chucking bloke who got thrown out of Fat White Family for being too unpredictable. Yes, shaking off their long-standing rep for onstage behaviour that'd have a disgusted GG Allin demanding a refund, Atlanta garage rockers Black Lips retreated to Sean Lennon's studio compound to make their seventh album featuring FWF's Saul Adamczewski. And While Wayne, Lucid Nightmare and the 50s mirrorball romance of Crystal Night maintain the crisp retro spark of old, the rest of this somewhat inspired 55-minute mess smacks of the Fat Whites' sticky-trousered narco-country.
T he Black Lips' 2014 album, Under the Rainbow, which was produced by the Black Keys' Patrick Carney, didn't deliver the perhaps expected commercial breakthrough. Thus the cult Atlantans' ninth studio album sees them reverting to the sound established when they were trashy garage rockers who once caused outrage in India with their onstage nudity. Produced by Sean Lennon - it features backing vocals from his mother, Yoko Ono, but unfortunately they are inaudible - Satan's Graffiti is more Captain Beefheart than the Beatles.
Black Lips have spent 15 years not fitting into boxes. The fact their self-bestowed 'flower-punk' tag has stayed with them all this time is a testament to that, and looking back over the band's career brings more surprises than should be expected from a band that many would simply lug into a garage-punk box along with Ty Segall, Jay Retard and Thee Oh Sees. Black Lips have dropped the simple garage-punk of songs like 'Bad Kids' from their earlier albums, instead exploring deeper into their psychedelic side for the past few years.
When Mark Ronson and Patrick Carney want to clean up your act, what do you do? If you're in the Black Lips, you go along, which turned out to be a good idea on 2011's Arabia Mountain, produced by Ronson, and not so great on 2014's Underneath the Rainbow, with Carney of the Black Keys at the controls. If those two albums don't do much to advance your career beyond your current cult following, what's your next move? Well, you start hanging out with your friend Sean Lennon, and get him to produce an album that throws you back into the deep end of murk. Released in 2017, Satan's Graffiti or God's Art? not only reestablishes the group's former sonic personality as the fuzzy nexus between the Fall and the Trashmen, it's one of the most chaotic things the Black Lips have cut since 2005's Let It Bloom.
Black Lips have always promoted a slightly anachronistic rock'n'roll aesthetic. They look like a bunch of 50s greasers, but their music takes its cue from every era of the genre. This eighth album - produced by Sean Lennon - is no exception. At one moment the Atlanta four-piece are indulging in Brian Jonestown Massacre-esque psychedelia (The Last Cul-de-Sac), next up they're channelling the naïve innocence of The Everly Brothers (Crystal Night).
Few bands shapeshift as capably as Atlanta, Georgia's Black Lips. Quintessential garage rock chameleons, they have filtered far-flung influence across seven transmogrifying records without pausing long to gaze upon the lay of their land. Album number eight, Satan's Graffiti or God's Art? hurtles into bold territory, birthing an episodic symphony of sorts that not only rewards the repeated listen, but necessitates it.