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Black Lips' music will kick your ass, even if they don’t

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Black Lips bassist Jared Swilley really should have kicked Wavves frontman Nathan Williams' ass. It's not that Williams had it coming so much as Swilley's (and Black Lips') reputation depends on shit just like that. For nearly a decade, the Lips have fostered an image of rock 'n' roll idiocy at its best, marrying a penchant for rash decisions and poor impulse control with aggressive, bare-bones rock 'n' roll. The senseless bluster of the Wavves feud fit perfectly with the band's garage-punk motif, and was marred only by the fact that it was Swilley who wound up getting his ass kicked. (According to him, it was not by Williams.)

Fortunately, the band's sonic bravado hasn't let up a bit, regardless of Swilley's embarrassing performance as a brawler. Black Lips' fifth long player, this year's 200 Million Thousand, is a testament to the band's bullheaded commitment to its craft. Whereas some bands change over time, testing out a new sound here, adding instrumentation there, the Lips stick steadfastly to the blueprint of psyched-out garage punk, bashing through enough gloriously retrograde rock to convert an audience through sheer force. A belief that ramshackle guitars, drums, and bass are the only tools necessary, and fuzzed-out volume the only effect appropriate for a true rock album, drive the Black Lips' sound—and it pairs perfectly with their ne'er-do-well attitude.

To get all Joseph Campbell about it, Black Lips are a great band because they are archetypal. To listen to Black Lips is to tap the vein of the human experience and explore, at a relatively safe distance, some of the darker desires in the human psyche. The world of rock 'n' roll has always been more interested in the anti-hero, and the Lips play this role admirably. For the band not to make ill-conceived threats against the lives and property of perceived enemies would almost be an affront to the very notion of its existence.

Then again, when Lips singer Cole Alexander met up with Williams after an Atlanta show earlier this month, the two hugged it out and talked about how mean Swilley had been, according to Creative Loafing. Not very rock 'n' roll after all. But the world needs the reductive stomp of overdriven guitars and neolithic drums—and the threat of physical harm that lies just beneath that sonic surface. For providing that, at least in song, we should thank Black Lips, even if Swilley is more bass than bite.

Email music@nashvillescene.com.

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