The Flaming Lips


Rating: 4.5/5.0

Label: Warner Bros.

It’ been a full 10 years since The Soft Bulletin touched down on terrestrial soil to massive and near-unanimous critical acclaim. The stratospheric lead track, “Race for the Prize,” completed The Flaming Lips’ colorful paradigm shift, foreshadowed four years prior on 1995′ Clouds Taste Metallic, from weirdo acid-rockers to weirdo psych-pop spectacle. Since then it’ been all confetti cannons and streamer guns. When At War with the Mystics emerged in 2006 as the band’ closest brush with mediocrity, critics, citing man-sized plastic bubbles and massive homemade UFOs, began to peg the wild Okies as more novelty act than legitimate rock band. In a stunning turn, Embryonic marks the audacious, boundary-pushing, 70-minute rebirth of these fearless freaks that reminds us just who we’e dealing with.

Opener “Convinced Of The Hex” immediately separates itself from the Lips’ extensive back catalog. It’s dirty and visceral with squelching lo-fi guitars that counter hi-fi overdubs and a throbbing bass pulse. The distinctly confrontational sound characterizes a good portion of the record. “See The Leaves” grinds its dark take on ecology into your consciousness with an elastic bass line and Kliph Scurlock’s furious drums. Embryonic’s most aggressive track is a noisy stoner-rock epic featuring MGMT; “Worm Mountain” pits Wayne Coyne’ airy vocal harmony against a menacing jam fit for a Lightning Bolt LP. These cuts hail a welcome end to the poppier aspirations of Yoshimi and Mystics. They’re abstract and abrasively challenging with a raw finish not felt on a Lips record since the early ’90s. Embryonic is not eager to please, nor is it for the faint of heart.

Even the quieter stretches keep tensions high while providing welcome respite from otherwise dense barrages of rumbling bass and drilling percussion. The possibly-political “Evil”offers such shelter from the intensity, afloat between the oscillating funk of “The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine”and the schizophrenic “Aquarius Sabotage”in an expanse of dreamy synth. “Powerless”is a haunting, seven-minute simmer that divides fragmented rockers “Your Bats” and “The Ego’s Last Stand” Its stumbling guitar solo keeps you on your toes as it constantly threatens to burst into a free-form freak-out. These alternations provide not only a balanced sonic diet, but keep Embryonic’s high-flying crescendos from blending into a parade of overwhelming indulgence.

The resulting three and four track cycles downplay attempts at focus and deny Embryonic an all-out climax. Instead the record is an addictive, well-paced series of satisfying moments; the harp flourishes and breakdowns of “Silver Trembling Hands,” those first kicks setting the kraut-groove of “Watching The Planets,” the delightfully weird lyricism of “I Can Be A Frog”(featuring Karen O on animal sounds). Like the best double albums, Embryonic’s lack of defining edges and rigid structure allows the band to play jazz, figuratively and literally; influences range in familiarity from the expected (Pink Floyd and Sonic Youth) to the brand new (Joy Division and Miles Davis).

From sparse, electronic ambiance (“IF” to vocoder lullaby (“The Impulse” and proto-jazz hysteria (“Scorpio Sword”, Embryonic is a return to form for The Flaming Lips. A return to their experimental, acid-inspired roots that sounds meticulously produced and broadcast from the nexus of the universe. It’s simultaneously organic and mechanical, fluid and fractured, down-to-earth and otherworldly. It’s the furthest they’ve been outside the box since 1997’s quadruple-album Zaireeka and the most inspired since The Soft Bulletin. Most excitingly, Embryonic eagerly promises that The Flaming Lips’ best work may not lie behind them–as much of this decade has suggested–but has yet to be seen.

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