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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