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The Terror

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Album Review

One of the Flaming Lips' greatest strengths is how vividly they express emotions. For most of their career, they've focused on capturing wide-eyed wonder, unbridled glee, and the occasional poignant moment, but The Terror proves they're just as good at channeling despair. Embryonic hinted at this darker shift, but here it comes to a head: sparked by Wayne Coyne's separation from his longtime partner and Steven Drozd's struggles with substance abuse, The Terror is more fragmented and anguished than its predecessor. Where Embryonic's bold swaths of noise and pulsing synths broke free of expectations, on The Terror they represent being cut loose and drifting off into loneliness and doubt. The opening track, "Look... The Sun Rising" makes it clear that this is not the Flaming Lips fans have come to expect since the late '90s. As Coyne sings "Love is always something/Something you should fear" and invokes MK Ultra, harsh guitars and beats create a wall of sound that's both claustrophobic and isolating. As dark as the album is, it's also some of the band's most fascinating music; vintage electronics buzz and whir around Coyne's wounded vocals in a way that recalls Meddle-era Pink Floyd and the Silver Apples in its spacy bleakness. The Terror was recorded in a short time and it shows in the urgency within every track, even the 13-minute centerpiece "You Lust," which moves from some of the band's most shockingly angry moments ("You've got a lot of nerve to f**k with me!," Coyne snarls at its beginning) to a delicate coda that evokes Raymond Scott's Soothing Sounds for Baby. While the album often feels like a black hole sucking up all the hope in the universe, to the band's credit, they're never too obvious about it. Coyne's largely philosophical lyrics are all the more striking in how they imply this feeling rather than just stating it, particularly on one of the loveliest and scariest tracks here, "Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die." It contemplates life and death on a personal and universal scope, linking it to the sun's rising and setting; throughout the album, the band uses the sun as a metaphorical reminder that life goes on even when you wish it wouldn't. Experimental even for a band that has made outlandish sounds and ideas its bread and butter for decades, The Terror finds the Flaming Lips at the peak of their powers as they embody what it's like to be overwhelmed; they don't offer a shoulder to cry on as much as an acknowledgment of just how isolating pain can be. While it's common to call artists brave for addressing life's darker moments, there's some truth to it: it's not easy to face up to and present the worst parts of being alive, much less in a way that's artistically pleasing or relevant. The Lips don't make it sound easy, which is why The Terror is so powerful. [The U.S. vinyl version of the album featured the "Mashed-the-F-Up" remix of "We Don't Control the Controls" as a bonus track.]

Customer Reviews

Hypnotic, dark, brilliant

This is not the romantic, polished "Yoshimi" Flaming Lips. This is the sound of them digging deeper into the jam-based, lurching grooves of their previous album proper, 2009's 'Embryonic'. Picking up right where that album left off, The Lips take us on an even more immersive and dense tour of their chaotic universe. "The sun's gonna rise..." was the last phrase sung on Embryonic's epic finisher "Watching the Planets", and it seems that Wayne Coyne's warped-little-hippie alter ego is proven right, as we are shown on "Look...The Sun is Rising". The album from then on plays as essentially one song, and is certainly one of the most cohesive and consistent efforts in the Lips' repertoire. The impassioned moments are cries of anguish, followed by even more introspective soundscapes, at times reaching into ambient music territory that is met with harsh eruptions of distorted guitar bashing. The entire album is awash in synthesizer textures, and uses Coyne's voice as a functioning instrument and by no means the star of the show. There are no singles here (the Deluxe edition has the Hyundai commercial song tacked onto it, certainly good for a laugh), only sparse meditations on mortality. The album is deeply affecting and harshly atmospheric throughout. So...why listen to it? What's the point, when all it does is conjure up negative emotions, if not existential malaise? Somehow, for the past year I've managed to find catharsis, and even comfort in this dungeon of an album. I enjoy the rest of the band's discography just as much, I am not one of those inaccessible music-lovers, only liking certain music because it's hard to like. It is quite an experimental effort from a band that thrives on pushing boundaries, and must be listened to as a whole. Give it a chance to get past your musical gag-reflex ("This isn't music, pfaaah!"), and you may find that it's gotten under your skin.


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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