A First Listen to The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, Feat. Ke$ha, Erykah Badu, Bon Iver and More
I loved, loved the Flaming Lips' Embryonic, and find The Soft Bulletin to be a pretty magical cornucopia. Pretty big fan of 1995's Clouds Taste Metallic as well. Yet I've never considered for even a second if the Lips could be one of my Favorite Bands. They might've struck gold three-ish times, but they've made about four times that many records, and they're such junkies for typical gotcha bullshit that it's hard to trust that their bottomless propensity for novelty won't permeate their record writing. Records like this one, that is, released especially for Record Store Day with a legitimate other famous guest on every track. My mind is telling me no, but my body's saying yes.
"2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)"
The best thing about Wayne Coyne is he takes dares very
seriously. So in order to top his previous records, which were released inside
gummy skulls and fetuses, his new album opens with the distinct voice of Ke$ha
vying with abrasive tones unheard in major-label music since Aphex Twin's ...I
Care Because You Do. She fits in this jungle-clash cacophony perfectly, which
is either a testament to her versatility (hey, I believe in Ke$ha) or the
amorphousness of the Lips' music circa 2012. Other than the drumbeat, I don't
hear the currently-being-cited Stooges' "1969" though. The synths sound like
someone dialing a phone through an overfed amplifier.
"Ashes in the Air"
Here's a lyric you didn't hear on the Grammy-winning Bon Iver: "You and me/ We're both so fucked up/ But you're fucked up in the good way/ And I'm fucked up in the bad." The best part is it's hard to tell if that's Justin Vernon on squeaky lead vocals or him just echoing Coyne's dystopian truths. This one's like a hymnal.
"Helping the Retarded to Find God"
... Speaking of which. When's the last time the Lips did a grand, marching Neil Young "Long May You Run" folk ballad? Something tells me this track's guest, Edward Sharpe -- who I think I'm supposed to have heard but haven't -- doesn't get much better than this on his own.
"Supermoon Made Me Want to Pee"
I'm not super familiar with Prefuse 73 either, but I think he was one of the last people to gain critical acclaim when instrumental hip-hop and techno were still bedfellows. Here he adds thick bass drones to other drones and kind of nicely resists the temptation to go dubstep. Or maybe he's incapable, I don't know. After that rowdy opener, these tracks have been suspiciously slow though.
"Children of the Moon"
Maybe it's just the title and the absurd high voices, but this reminds me of Frank Zappa. I'm now three for three; I've never heard Tame Impala. On this evidence I presume they sound like Black Moth Super Rainbow. Now there's a band who should be collaborating with the Flaming Lips on name alone. This song's oddly country. The first intergalactic-country song since the Magnetic Fields' Charm of the Highway Strip perhaps?
"That Ain't My Trip"
The first song that could reasonably described as "violent" since the first one. Though it's far less memorable -- what did you expect Jim James to add to this act? It's like Wolf Parade guesting with Modest Mouse; the original article is so much more radical than its younger sibling.
"You, Man? Human???"
With all these woofer-swallowing synths I'm beginning to
think this is the squelchiest Lips album, no small task. In fact, the present
tones are so subterranean that they make the normally guttural guest Nick Cave
sound positively castrato. "I ain't been human in years," he snides near the
end. Fuck you, Nick.
"I'm Working at NASA on Acid"
Second-longest in show. The plain-strummed tempos, go-long drone passes and bombed post-post-apocalyptic atmosphere make it official, this is the Lips' folksiest album ever. Of the doomed elegy kind, though. Here's where I mention this little acoustic blues lament's guest: avant-noise pummel-pistons Lightning Bolt. The song accelerates around three minutes, washing everything in flanger bleach, speaker-eating distortion, slow stereo decay. A minute of tone-drones that sound like a windy day being miked through a walkie-talkie. Then more folking. Another day at the office.
If the new celebrity-foil Lips have a predecessor, it's Yoko Ono, whose jagged injections into the otherwise classic Lennonesque pop of Double Fantasy have caused many a Normal Person to grumble and grouse. But she sounds awesomely middle of the road simply reading the title in the mirror over this dense, dubby fog of bass, echo and ripped-duct-tape effects.
"Is David Bowie Dying?"
I like Neon Indian a lot -- he's not exactly in gummy skull territory, but I do enjoy seeing worthy psychedelic imaginations playing off each other. Can't tell what he adds to this, but it's definitely not chillwave. "Goodbye," sings Coyne continuously, presumably to Bowie, who isn't dead but in Coyne's imaginarium might as well be. Highest I've ever been at a funeral.
"The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face"
The masterpiece I'm told, with Erykah Badu going gentle into that good night. But I think I've finally figured out why more than half the songs here sound like a procession gloomier than anything Radiohead's ever released. This album is the Flaming Lips' idea of a funeral, for record stores, to whom they pay tribute on Record Store Day. Various guests of all corners of the industry put on their best black and come to pay their respects: Ke$ha, Erykah, whoever. And this one is its "Candle in the Wind 97," a song we all know that's been boosted to either comic or poignant grandeur. The rhythm track is like thunder.
"Girl, You're So Weird"
Featuring New Fumes. I'm pretty sure Coyne is just making these up now. Or just recording his vacuum cleaner.
"I Don't Want You to Die"
Instantly likable piano melody -- by Chris Martin of all people! Say what you will about that guy's newfound legitimacy, but I find Coldplay suspiciously lacking in earworms usually, even though judging by something like Martin's appearance on Kanye West's "Homecoming" and his glowing, repeated motif here, he obviously could if he wanted. Or maybe he couldn't and he needs erratic geniuses like West or Coyne to wring out his best riffs. This song's completely gorgeous, by the way. "I love the Flaming Lips!" he exclaims at the end, aw! But what about the record stores??----
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