Live Pucker

Teen-Slurred Sweet Pee and Monotoned Pep Talks From the South

"Everybody Loves a Cocksucker," the best three minutes on Black Lips!, is a slow, slurry, curiously affectionate—even tender—muckpile of a song. Its narrative is too fucked to make real sense of, but offers repeated lines of teenage-boy circumstance: "Living at home is such a drag," "Your mama [or maybe 'Aunt Jemima'??] told me not to love her," and, of course, "Every man loves a cocksucker"—which somewhere in there rhymes, I think, with "live pucker."

It's impossible to tell what the lustrously adolescent Atlantan Cole Alexander is ever really singing, though in varying shades of inebriated baby talk, his emotional tenor always comes through. "Cocksucker" is a happy track: There are chortles and giggles as he delivers (gender-bending?) observations about how "it's hard to be feminine when you're not a fag." The underlying feeling is that he does fuck the mom and get his own cock sucked all the time—probably in his parents' den or basement.

The Black Lips' debut is a grimy record, something like Creedence crossed with gauze-wrapped early-'90s garagists the Mummies. The Southeast Performer remarked that "Can't Get Me Down"—one of those grubby, loose, harmonica blues songs about some such "little woman"—"has the production value of two boom boxes." (It also ends with depraved, cute gibberish, something like "JAY CAIN TEE TEE CAW CAW.") The key to the Lips, though, isn't just their thrown-together garage-band production values (actually, they hail from no suburban garage, but a post-high-school domicile and DIY venue near Georgia Tech named Die Slaughterhaus), or Alexander's commanding, sometimes mournful, sometimes exuberant garble. (Funniest thing ever written about his voice: Matt Davies's observation that "The Caucasian singer ends up sounding like Anthony Michael Hall during his whitey-black blues impression in The Breakfast Club.") There's also the urgency, beyond posturing, one hears through the album's 13 tracks, suggesting the Lips only give a fuck about the basics: namely, being in a fuck-all band. Live, they do unremarkable shit like pulling their pants down onstage, and trying to light themselves on fire—but then they also do weirder, funner stuff: Alexander hits his guitar strings hard, reportedly with his cock, repeatedly. Ouch! Bassist and budding psychologist Jared Swilley sees it this way: "We're good-bad, not evil. A lot of club owners say they don't like us, but deep down, I think they do."

Many of the songs—some of which converge on themes like incest ("Sweet Kin": "My mama's sister's baby's daddy don't know but all it took was 23 chromosomes to make my heart sing kin")—disintegrate at the edges, often into a nice mess of screaming, distortion, slop. But the Black Lips (allegedly known too as Labia Negros) also know how to write those at once clean and dirty teenage-desire numbers that would have been on Nuggets, like "Freakout," "Stone Cold," and "Ain't No Deal," about "just a little boy" and a girl "about 17." A good soundtrack, say, for a hot dry-humping session. They can do nasty or slightly nice, or both at the same time. Which connects to the paradox Phil Elvrum—whose own band, the Microphones, toured with the Lips—recently reported about Alexander: "He peed into his own mouth and then spit it on the crowd. But he really is a sweet guy."

Black Lipstick—another four-piece from the South, albeit unrelated to Black Lips—had a wicked EP last year, The Four Kingdoms of Black Lipstick, which wears its Exile on Main Street and White Light White Heat influences on its sultry sleeve. Its masterpiece is "White Jazz," in which Phillip Niemeyer whines saucily, "I don't care about shit except for getting off and getting lit." Niemeyer was kicked out of his elementary school choir and twice failed to qualify for even his high school talent show; the press release mentions his "God-given monotone." But singing through his nose is part of what makes his "White Jazz" come-on so charming: "I wanna kick it whi-choo."

On their first full-length, though, these Texans have lost a bit of their swagger. Maybe they got too good: Converted Thieves is more intricate, more beautiful, than Four Kingdoms, but I liked when they made funny music you could quiver to. The new songs that work are less pretty and gently propulsive, and more simple and brash. The best, "Voodoo Economics," is a pep talk, complete with call-and-response section: "Like a fuckin' elevator," moans Niemeyer; "We can uplift you higher," chants the rest of the band—including cute drummer Beth Nottingham, who should sing more. She does chime in some on the nine-minute "Texas Women," which lauds "big hair and random weather." "So, Papi, you like it when I shake it?" she chirps; "Yeah, Ma, that's why I'm singing," Niemeyer affirms. But where I wish he'd keep on warbling in reverence, instead we get an accomplished but uninspiring guitar solo.

Niemeyer, when he's not playing in Black Lipstick, works as an attorney. Black Lips may need one soon.


The Black Lips play Luxx July 17, Piano's July 19, and Sin-é July 25.

 
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