Monday, March 28, 2005

Black Lipstick On Sweet Jane's Face


Many years ago when the Austin, Texas rock and roll underground scene was making big waves with acts like Zeitgeist, Doctor’s Mob, The Wild Seeds, Glass Eye, True Believers and Daniel Johnston to name but a few SPIN magazine came down to do a feature story on the scene which was dubbed the "New Sincerity" in music. I was captivated for a number of reasons; Daniel Johnston worked at McDonalds then and I also worked for the golden arches, Austin came off in the story as a slacker paradise welcoming to artists like I fancied myself to be, and most importantly the story had a bit about a local night of music where each band took the stage to perform a cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane”, which may sound repetitious to some, but to my Velvet’s obsessed mind read like heaven. Were any of the members of Austin band Black Lipstick in the audience that witnessed the night of homage to Lou Reed back in 1985? It’s not likely since they would have been just children then, but the spirit of that club date must have seeped into their collective unconscious as the force of VU is strong with them.

Black Lipstick is Elizabeth Nottingham, Travis Higdon, Steve Garcia, and Phillip Niemeyer and as they proclaim on the lead off track from Sincerely, Black Lipstick, "B.O.B. F.OS.S.E.", “if the world’s a stage then the whole damn world should bow to us…” they are ready for our supplication. Its exuberant rock loaded with Velvets and Television/Tom Verlaine New York cool mixed with Texas heat and drawl and certainly not without antecedents – read the first paragraph again if you’ve already forgotten the apparent love affair Texas has with “Sweet Jane”. The surface of Black Lipstick’s music might suggest insouciance, but there’s much going on beneath it all. Guitars snarl and hum, drums thump, and the bass rides around each song picking up the melody line when it gets dropped. Prickly little pinpricks of delight await the really attentive listener. “Grandma Airplane” unwinds for seven plus minutes telling the tale of an airplane ride with such dreamlike assurance it feels like you’re the one in the air while “it’s your world sitting on the ground”. Black Lipstick manage to come off as both bohemian and working class and to honor such a melding of intellectualism and pragmatism the next paragraph of this review will be done using the cut up method. I have cut up old Black Lipstick press clippings and through random choices I will try to capture the essence of the band.

CUT UP section: Vinyl over human interaction – this is smart stuff. An atmosphere of erotic suspense – they combine the usual freshly derivative snarky, sexy boho punk. Somebody brilliant comes along to remind you to tackle the grubby themes. The Lipstick aesthetic is clearest nerdy neurotic tribal they’re clever like Lou Reed. Instilled Texas hipsters complete with boy/girl vocals memorable. End of CUT UP section.

“Throw Some Money At It” sounds a little like Pavement which is okay with me. I do prefer the mild psychedelia of “Viva Max” better. You could be the big spot the influence winner of that one if you happen to mention Joy Division. But spotting the influences is not the appeal of the band; yes “The Bad Catholic” might remind you of My Bloody Valentine but what matters is what Black Lipstick do with those influences. They take them, shake them, and remake them. I listen to Sincerely, Black Lipstick when I tumble out of bed each morning so I get the proper dose of rock and roll to get me through another day at the day job and then bookends the night when I’m needing to space out.

It’s one of the best albums of the year so far and your home and rock and roll heart would be empty without it. It’s available from Peek-A-Boo Industries.

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