Words by Josh Fletcher
The Flaming Lips have been around for more than three decades. However, it doesn’t feel that way. Wayne Coyne and company have kept busy over the years, not only with studio albums, but collaborations with the likes of Miley Cyrus, Lightning Bolt, and others. Shifting styles throughout different projects demonstrates that they aren’t coasting on the reputation of their name to churn out the same album every few years.
Their pace for new albums is slow but consistent. Oczy Mlody is the band’s 14th full-length effort and their first since 2013’s The Terror, which was preceded by 2009’s Embryonic. Expect a new album from the Lips in 2021, with lots of off-kilter collaborations and experiments between now and then.
The opening track paints the album as one for devoted fans who embrace their eccentricities. Bass throbs while digital keys float in the air, acting as more of a scene-setting than a fully-formed song, drawing you into the Lips’ world.
It isn’t until the second track, “How??” that Coyne’s voice is heard, as he gently articulates “White trash rednecks, earthworms eat the ground,” an intriguing juxtaposition of social/political commentary and earthly observations. Although measured and restrained, the track packs a punch with deep synth swells. The chorus of “I tried to tell you, but I don’t know how” could be a cathartic anthem, but Coyne’s voice is rather a desperate worry he can barely articulate.
The album’s consistent flow is demonstrated early, as “How??” morphs into the deep bass grooves of “There Should Be Unicorns.” Here, Coyne lets out his falsetto, a great contrast to the bass swells, making the album excellent for headphone listening. An awkward spoken word segment by Reggie Watts interrupts the track toward its end.
There is a profoundly depressed mood throughout the album, demonstrated by the sometimes abrasive production and Coyne’s unenthused delivery. It’s not a total bummer, but you get a feel for Coyne’s emotions with lyrics like “The machine that brings me joy, now it’s just a stupid toy.” It’s still got the cosmic energy the band excels at, but it’s just a bit muted.
After a few songs that are weighed down by aimless experimentation, the band gets back on course, maximizing the dread with “One Night While Hunting For Fairies and Witches and Wizards to Kill.” Its relentless percussion hearkens back to Riz Ortolani’s score for “Cannibal Holocaust.”
Although it’s a rather restrained album, there are still moments when the band injects superfluous additives. For instance, “Listening to the Frogs with Demon Eyes,” features samples of frogs croaking, as if listeners forgot the song’s subject matter. Meanwhile, what sounds like drum machines on “The Castle” distract from the mythical storytelling quality of Coyne’s lyrics.
There is a light at the end of the dark tunnel with the closing track “We a Family,” featuring Flaming Lips muse Miley Cyrus. As Coyne repeatedly sings “You and me,” intense feelings of passion and love are felt, but held in until the last minute. Although Cyrus’ lyrics aren’t particularly profound (“It’s been a long summer, I miss you, it’s a bummer”) they show appreciation for the small things. Similarly, The Flaming Lips might not always stick the landing, but they know what counts in life.
© January 13th, 2017
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