- Cullman, Alabama

March 13, 2011

Black Lab keep the 90s alt-rock torch burning

Playback album review

By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times

— What year is it? 2011?

Well, don’t tell California-based rock band Black Lab, because as far as they know, flannel and Doc Marten boots are still in style.

In an era where the Billboard chart is topped by names like Lady Gaga, Cee Lo and Rihanna; Black Lab bring back memories of the days when bands like Foo Fighters, Our Lady Peace, and Third Eye Blind ruled the airwaves.

If you can follow the context clues, you’ve figured out I’m referring to the mid-to-late 1990s — around 1997 to be precise — when Black Lab found acclaim, led mostly by the hit single “Wash it Away” from their major label debut Your Body Above Me.

But, after finding moderate success at Geffen, then Epic Records, Black Lab dropped off the radar and eventually became one of the best kept secrets of the 2000s — having all but vanished from the public consciousness.

If you haven’t heard “Wash It Away,” you probably have heard one of lead singer Paul Durham’s other songs, you just didn’t know it. Without a major label, Black Lab became essentially a hired gun to create alt-rock tunes for movie and TV soundtracks throughout the 2000s. The band has had songs featured on Spider-Man, Transformers, The Benchwarmers, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Shield, Blade: Trinity, Can’t Hardly Wait, and about a half dozen other films and series.

But, despite no major label home, Durham never stopped making music — actually, he just kept getting better. The band released seven independent albums, beginning in 2003 with I Feel Fine, all the way to their latest disc Two Strangers in late 2010.

Durham knows what he likes to do, and knows how to do it well. Namely, craft albums with singles that would be perfectly comfortable on an alternative rock station.

The only problem?

The genre has pretty much vanished, giving way to hip-hop and the ever-present monster that is pop music.

So, Black Lab has been happy to carve out a nice little home in the earbuds and speakers of late Gen Xers, and early Gen Yers, who still appreciate a good old fashioned hook, and churning guitars.

Though the band’s latest effort, Two Strangers, still maintains the aura of post-grunge rock, it has fit in the lessons learned from recent indie rock successes into the mix. The mix is clean, but not polished, with a dash of dirt mixed in with the guitar and drums, and enough pop sensibilities to keep you tapping your toes.

Every song has at least one good hook, and there are enough mid-tempo tracks and ballads to make this a well-rounded album — something you don’t see often these days.