Oczy Mlody chops up the best bits of the Flaming Lips’ kaleidoscopic past and reconfigures them into something fresh and new.
Given the current state of national affairs, conditions are ripe for a spiritual successor to the paranoia and bleakness of the Flaming Lips’ apocalyptic turn in 2013’s The Terror. Instead, Wayne Coyne has described their latest album, Oczy Mlody, as “Syd Barrett meets A$AP Rocky and they get trapped in a fairy tale in the future,” foreshadowing both a juxtaposition of contrasting styles and a shift back to the whimsical and otherworldly phantasmagoria of classic efforts like The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. The Flaming Lips end up splitting the difference, charting a winding course through a surreal sonic space rife with fairies, wizards, unicorns, spaceships and Jesus that also preserves the sense of menacing tension that made The Terror such a transcendently unnerving experience.
Despite the utter strangeness that permeates Oczy Mlody, Coyne and co. rein in their most confetti-fueled excesses, keeping themselves tethered to the terrestrial even when they let their heads drift up into the clouds. Like a bizarre, nonsensical dream with roots that can nevertheless be traced back to very identifiable emotions and anxieties, this album unfurls into a wonderland of both ostentatious symbolism and purposeful absurdity. On its most tenderly sung track, first single “The Castle,” Coyne channels his grief over the suicide of a friend into hyperbolic fairytale imagery (“Her eyes were butterflies/ Her smile was a rainbow”) that gives over to the darkness of a lost “invisible war” and declaration that “The castle can never be rebuilt again,” the power of grief channeled through allegory adding dimension to a track that could easily otherwise be construed as mawkish.
But the fantastical imagery doesn’t always cloak profundity, as on the infectious droning and ethereal harmonization of “There Should Be Unicorns,” a track rife with nonlinear thought processes constructing a wishlist that’s part Tina Belcher daydream and part Dadaist aberration. Reggie Watts closes out the track with a spoken-word guest spot where he expounds on the ideal scenario wished for in this song, specifying that the desired unicorns are “the one with the purple eyes, not the green eyes,” while lamenting that regardless of diet “they shit everywhere.” His part even inches toward social commentary as he strategizes that “If the police show up, we will give them so much money that they can retire from their shitty, violent jobs.” This kind of a loose, half-hearted commentary also bubbles up on the seeping psychedelia of “How??” with mention of “White trash rednecks” and calls to “Legalize it, every drug right now” and a satirical nostalgia for the “baby guns” of a militant youth.
The Flaming Lips’ ability to harken to some of their most beloved past efforts without going full-on carbon copy of themselves moves Oczy Mlody to a higher level. A meditation on death, the placid “Sunrise (Eyes of the Young)” may come off musically as the most obvious cousin of Yoshimi but then there’s the added wrinkle that the entire first verse is borrowed from a song by new Flaming Lips’ BFF Miley Cyrus (who also provides fuzzed out guest vocals on closer “We a Family”). With booming percussion and a simmering tension in its electronic effects, “One Night While Hunting for Faeries and Witches and Wizards to Kill” feels culled from the same darkness as The Terror, but its decidedly fabulist imagery diverts it down a different path. Meanwhile, the slurred hallucination of “Do Glowy” incorporates insectile effects and a reference to predatory flowers in order to transport us to another world, and “Listening to the Frogs with Demon Eyes” uses nature noises and glistening strings to ease us back to Earth.
The Flaming Lips’ oddball sensibilities have led them down many a rabbit hole over the past four decades, and Oczy Mlody chops up the best bits of that kaleidoscopic past and reconfigures them into something fresh and new that’s also as oddly familiar as a favorite fable. With so much malignant nonsense going on the world today, immersing oneself in the soothing strangeness of top-shelf Flaming Lips isn’t mere escapism—it’s catharsis.