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Album Review

Christmas on Mars might be the Flaming Lips' bona fide sci-fi epic, but Embryonic is the musical equivalent of the final scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey: transformative chaos that results in a new start. From The Soft Bulletin onward, the Lips seemed focused on tidying the loose ends of their earlier work, almost to the point of constraining themselves. Their wilder side is unleashed on Embryonic's 18 tracks, and the band sounds more off-the-cuff than it has in years — some tracks are barely longer than snippets, others are rangy epics, and it all holds together so organically that listeners might wonder just how much these songs were edited. Musically, Embryonic is the least polite the Flaming Lips have been in nearly two decades, mixing in-the-red drums, blobby, dubby bass, squelchy wah-wah guitars, and sparkling keyboards into a swirl of sounds that are strangely liquid and abrasive at the same time. Occasionally, the band uses noise in an almost ugly way, as on "Convinced of the Hex," which scrapes eardrums with static and distortion before falling into a loose but driving Krautrock groove that adds to the song's tribal pull (complete with growling and wailing in the background). The Miles Davis-inspired "Aquarius Sabotage" opens fuzz bass and keyboards so chaotic, it isn't just free jazz, it's free-for-all jazz, while "Your Bats" is as soulful as it is noisy, piling roomy drums atop more delicate hand percussion, strings, and brass. The Lips balance these confrontational tracks with calmer moments like the vocodered loveliness of "The Impulse " and "Gemini Syringes," an expansive respite that features "additional spoken announcements" by mathematician Thorsten Wormann. Embryonic might not be a literal concept album, but it often plays like one. An astrology motif runs through the ultra-spacy "Virgo Self Esteem Broadcast" and the tumbling instrumental "Scorpio Sword," another track that suggests that the album's ultimate concept may be that chaos is a profound agent of change. It's also the Flaming Lips' most emotionally raw album, despite — or perhaps because of — its free-flowing nature. Wayne Coyne often sounds like he's singing from another dimension, musing on humankind's frailty with the wonder of an alien or a newborn on "If" and "The Sparrow Looks Up at the Machine." This is also some of the band's most bittersweet work; on the beautiful "Powerless," Coyne sings "no one is ever really powerless," but the music dwells on the weighty implications of that thought rather than its potential freedom. Even the playful "I Can Be a Frog," which features Karen O as a one-woman noisemaker, is minor-key. Then again, little about Embryonic is clear-cut or straightforward — these noisy, pensive, sometimes meandering songs take awhile to decipher and often feel like they're still in the process of becoming. These very qualities, however, make these songs some of the Flaming Lips most haunting and intriguing music in some time.

Customer Reviews

Madness Takes Over Again

The Flaming Lips' follow-up to At War With The Mystics heralds a major departure from the bouncy symphonic pop sounds that characterised that album and its predecessors, Yoshimi and The Soft Bulletin. In Embryonic, the Lips have immersed themselves in a psychic desperation that has laid largely dormant beneath the life-affirming anthems of their recent albums. From the harshly discordant electronic crunches of the first track, Convinced of the Hex, to the booming distorted bass line of the concluding track, Watching the Planets, Embryonic is awash with an affecting sense of isolation, despair and deep psychosis. The instrumental arrangements are often jarring and many Lips fans who have only listened to their last three albums may find this nominal double album much harder listening. Heavily distorted guitars, dirty bass and multiple layers of effects provide a powerful backdrop to Wayne Coyne's often dark lyrics. In its themes and its musical flavour, Embryonic is much more similar to the soundtrack for the Lips' movie, Christmas on Mars, than it is to Mystics. The veritable freakout that dominates much of the seven minutes of Powerless and the freeform wail and crash of the instrumental Aquarious Sabotage define the new direction that the Lips find themselves heading in. Coyne has described the sound as a convergence of Joy Division, Miles Davis and John Lennon. If you loved Do You Realize? but never quite got the point of the Flaming Lips' more mind-bending forays into experimentalism, this album is not for you; there is little reprieve from the insanity. On the other hand, if you are willing to be led down the path towards the unknown and want to see for yourself just how the Lips can remain one of the most exciting psychedelic experimental bands even in their twelfth studio album and after nearly 30 years of activity, buy this album now.

An Excellent Change In Style (If there wasn't one it wouldn't be the Flaming Lips)

Sensational sound shift on this double album. The sound is almost like you are part of one of their own jams in their studio. It feels natural and rugged, yet has grandeur about it. The old synth epics like Do You Realise?? and the pop anthems like The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song are not to be found, but subtle traces are existent throughout the entire record. It is for this reason that this album is great.
It rivals The Soft Bulletin but in its own unique way. Must hear tracks Silver Trembling Hands, Worm Mountain, Aquarius Sabotage, See the Leaves


Formed: 1983 in Oklahoma City, OK

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Even within the eclectic world of alternative rock, few bands were so brave, so frequently brilliant, and so deliciously weird as the Flaming Lips. From their beginnings as Oklahoma weirdos to their mid-'90s pop culture breakthrough to their status as one of the most respected groups of the 2000s, the Lips rode one of the more surreal and haphazard career trajectories in pop music. An acid-bubblegum band with as much affinity for sweet melodies as blistering noise assaults, their off-kilter sound,...
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