Plumbiferous Media

Embryonic - The Flaming Lips

Oct 15th 2009
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Embryonic - The Flaming LipseThe Flaming Lips
Score: 81

Space-rock band The Flam­ing Lips released a new LP (its twelfth) on the 13th. The Flam­ing Lips has been active since 1983, and in that time has released eleven full-length albums, won three Gram­mys, and signed to Warn­er ear­ly in the 90s. In short, the band has quite a large wealth of expe­ri­ence, and more impor­tant­ly, it clear­ly shows in Embry­on­ic.

Wayne Coyne’s vocals on Embry­on­ic range between the high­ly-mod­i­fied elec­tric crack­ling of the open­ing track “Con­vinced of the Hex” to the famil­iar ethe­re­al drift that has dis­tin­guished over twen­ty-five years of The Flam­ing Lips. Coyne’s voice is cal­cu­lat­ed to keep the lis­ten­er on edge through the entire­ty of Embry­on­ic - and that it does, and well. Coyne’s voice is alter­nate­ly woven intri­cate­ly into the instru­men­tal field of the music and brought into sharp con­trast to pro­vide an addi­tion­al jagged edge. In cer­tain parts, such as the lat­er sec­tion of “The Ego’s Last Stand,” Coyne’s voice is placed above the music, as an echo­ing cos­mic pres­ence. How­ev­er they’re used, the vocals through­out Embry­on­ic are top-notch.

The Flam­ing Lips have always been experts at their per­son­al brand of sur­re­al­ism, and the space-infused sto­ries through­out Embry­on­ic are no excep­tion. The images cre­at­ed by the words of Embry­on­ic are simul­ta­ne­ous­ly per­plex­ing and enlight­en­ing, from the begin­ning of the album with “Con­vinced of the Hex,” which includes the thought-pro­vok­ing “She says she thinks there’s some sys­tem / That con­trols and effects / I believe in noth­ing / And you’re con­vinced of the hex,” to the very end. One of few mis­steps is “I Can Be a Frog,” which con­sists most­ly of Coyne singing “I can be a” [insert ani­mal name here] while Karen O. (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) makes ani­mal nois­es. For the most part, how­ev­er, Embry­on­ic is com­posed of exquis­ite exam­ples of the unearth­li­ness of The Flam­ing Lips.

The music of Embry­on­ic shifts con­stant­ly, even occa­sion­al­ly vio­lent­ly, between calm tracks such as “Evil,” and active, often high­ly dis­tort­ed tracks, includ­ing “The Spar­row Looks Up at the Machine.” Tracks like “Gem­i­ni Syringes,” which allows a solo bass to inter­act with a vocal mono­logue while sparse­ly incor­po­rat­ing a few addi­tion­al har­monies, are fol­lowed by those more sim­i­lar to “Your Bats,” which lets the drums run free even on a well-lay­ered track to cre­ate a simul­ta­ne­ous­ly flu­id and high­ly active track. Per­haps more notable even than the sheer mass of diver­si­ty over the album, though, are the always impec­ca­ble tran­si­tions between themes, tracks, and moods. In the pre­vi­ous exam­ple of “Your Bats” and “Gem­i­ni Syringes,” “Your Bats” resets the sound by ini­tial­ly sound­ing like what most resem­bles a band start­ing to warm up or prac­tice, and then mov­ing from that into a more ful­ly devel­oped track.

Anoth­er, even more remark­able ele­ment, though more rare than, say, diver­si­ty, is the blur­ring of the line between vocals and instru­men­tals. The most notice­able appear­ances of this are on “The Spar­row Looks Up at the Machine” and “Scor­pio Sword.” On the first, the vocals begin to dis­solve into the rest of the music, to the point where they could eas­i­ly be con­fused with a syn­thet­ic part, and on the sec­ond a synth line begins to resem­ble vocals and even take on some­thing sim­i­lar to a vocal role on the track.

Through the 18 tracks of Embry­on­ic, The Flam­ing Lips main­tain an almost over­whelm­ing con­stant ener­gy which grabs the atten­tion of lis­ten­ers, only releas­ing it 70 min­utes lat­er. Between the trade­mark spaci­ness of Coyne’s vocals, the sur­re­al nature of the lyrics, and the col­or­ful elec­tron­ic hum of the instru­men­tals, Embry­on­ic nev­er ceas­es to demon­strate the intense cre­ativ­i­ty of The Flam­ing Lips. Alto­geth­er, Embry­on­ic is a very good album, though it does­n’t quite match up to some of The Flam­ing Lips’ best work.

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