Anyone afraid that producer Mark Ronson would scour the grime from Black Lips’ sixth full-length, Arabia Mountain, should be reassured by the opening track, “Family Tree.” With its scuzzy sax break and spittle-flecked vocal, “Family Tree” nails the weird mix of retro-reverence and juvenile joshing that’s been Black Lips’ signature since the group signed to Vice. Earlier albums lurched from the mechanized chug of Swell Maps to the more pugnacious end of the Nuggets garage-rock roster, but the spectrum here is limited to the tunefully, tastefully messy.
That isn’t to say that the range of influences is small: “Spidey’s Curse” is The Troggs giving a pep-talk to Peter Parker over an insistently bright guitar line, and “Raw Meat” takes its clipped Ramones vocals even deeper into good-vibes territory with a chorus of harmonized whistling. It’s true that there’s nothing here as bruised as “Let It Grow” from 200 Million Thousand, but Ronson and Lockett Pundt’s studio spit-shine makes these 16 tracks gleam without sanitizing them one bit. And it doesn’t hurt that Jared Swilley and Cole Alexander’s alternately doomed and buoyant vocals have never sounded better.
Black Lips’ albums are usually track-heavy affairs, and Arabia Mountain runs out the clock with its weakest songs, which bank on goofy premises (“Don’t Mess Up My Baby,” “Dumpster Dive”) or hollow gimmicks. (The druggy “You Keep On Running” was recorded through a skull-borne mic.) Even here, though, the band’s smarmy charm bleeds through, providing the worthy follow-up to Good Bad Not Evil that 200 Million Thousand didn’t quite manage.