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Black Lips - Los Valientes del Mundo Neuvo

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Artist: Black Lips

Album: Los Valientes del Mundo Neuvo

Label: Vice

Review date: Apr. 11, 2007

The live setting suits the Black Lips. They've filled a few decent studio albums with their super-basic garage punk, neither striving to be authentically retro, nor venturing far beyond the mid-'60s approach to jangle and fuzz. Their discs for Bomp and In The Red frequently worked up such a lather of crude sounds that they often approached noise.

There's a lot less fuzztone on their Vice debut, Los Valientes del Mondo Neuvo, ostensibly a live recording from Tijuana. (The stray mariachi horn interludes seem a little too perfect.) But if there's some myth-making going on here, it doesn't matter. This is a road-tested set list for sure, and the guitars are limited to a single shimmery tone. If anything, Los Valientes showcases their songwriting better than ever before. There's more energy and less messing around. It's a streamlined display of what they do best.

"Stranger," plodded in its album incarnation as little more than a buzzbomb lead matched to a frat-house sing-along. That lead riff is now a crisp tremolo, cleaner and harder at the same time. They've inserted a cool little pause that makes the windup to the second verse hit bigger. And rather than a cast-of-thousands chorus, they trade off each line. That rapid back and forth makes a showpiece out of something that was unabashedly generic. "Juvenile" was a lo-fi mess on the same album. Here's it closes the set. Makes you wonder what else is lurking under some of their other rough-hewn tracks.

The distinctive thing about the Lips is their nasal harmonizing, which sounds like Nikki Sudden singing along with...well, Nikki Sudden. They work it in two directions - abrasive and pretty. When driving home a hook like "Hands / Do you really wanna hold my dirty hands?", it could be a Beatles parody from a cast-off Hanna-Barbara cartoon. Maybe a beatnik cat and a terrier in silk scarf and flight goggles grinding it out. It's funny, and they pull it off without a smirk, even with a spoken bridge about getting stoned. On "Buried Alive," matched with a fake-sitar drone, their conjoined sneers capture the full morbid potential of the premise. It's spook rock worth of Roky and Sky Saxon and all the other damaged minds of the first psychedelic era.

There's a hidden track at the end, a less rambunctious jangle. A growling voice plays off a falsetto in a lonely midnight setting, silly and haunting and hard to figure out. Kinda neat, and perhaps a sign that these guys can make some interesting stuff in the studio. But they do even better when we're keeping an eye on them.

By Ben Donnelly

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