Start of something beautiful

The Kiss Offs were great for a fling.

The band’s bratty playfulness had all the “come hither” of a quick and dirty flirt. A regular relationship was out of the question, but an occassional trick was all right.

Then the Kiss Offs went its separate ways, leading to a chance encounter with Black Lipstick. Now here’s something with a cool swagger bordering on boredom. Long-term commitment may still be out of the picture, but a few dates certainly weren’t.

It’s tough not to write about Black Lipstick without mentioning the Kiss Offs. Both bands shared the same singers/guitarists — Philip Niemeyer and Travis Higdon. Even the occassional interjection by drummer Beth Nottingham has shades of Tracey Jones’ caustic foil.

But the bands couldn’t be any more different. The Kiss Offs would drag you out on the dance floor and rub you in really sensitive places. Black Lipstick pretty much stands by the bar, eyeing you with same kind of suggestiveness.

Play the comparrison game with other music scribes, and the same predictable names would pop up: Television, Velvet Underground, Talking Heads.

Black Lipstick would probably be mugging for NME right now if they were based in New York City. (They’re from Austin, Texas.)

But the band’s debut full length, Converted Thieves, possesses something the old and new crop of rock new wavers don’t — warmth.

Despite Black Lipstick’s attempt to sound cooler than thou, there’s a definite heart to the music.

Audiophile-wise, the band don’t resort to sounding like they recorded to 8-tracks — there’s a clean, live feel without any of the edges dulled.

Music-wise, the songs are tuneful and sometimes long-windededly deadpan. But there’s something more going on than just I, IV and V — the chords Niemeyer and Higdon won’t be easily found in a “Play Guitar in 10 Days” book.

“Voodoo Economics” starts off sounding like Sonic Youth getting rid of the effects pedals, taking Valium and trying to write songs. “Serpentz” concludes with a dissonant chord threatening to unravel the song’s momentum.

Higdon and Niemeyer complement each other vocally. When Higdon takes a vocal turn on “Corporate Happy Hour”, his straight-forward melody provides a respite from Niemeyer’s deadpan on preceding tracks. On “Serpentz”, Higdon nails the chorus after Niemeyer provides the set-up.

Converted Thieves falters toward the end with “Dirges are Downers”, a song way too good at living up to its title, and Niemeyer is hardly audible on the 9-minute “Texas Women”. Till then, the album travels at a steady pace, handing out one even-headed ditty after another.

More than anything, Black Lipstick sounds mature. There’s an obvious stab at craftwork happening on Converted Thieves that listeners wouldn’t expect on The Kiss Offs Goodbye Private Life.

It makes for the start of a beautiful relationship.