Album Review: The Flaming Lips – Embryonic

I have a feeling people are going to have a hard time getting used to Embryonic. We’re already ecstatic over The Flaming Lips‘ signature psychedelic rock anthems that taught us to stay positive and live our dreams. But, if that was what you loved about The Flaming Lips, then I’m sorry, because you’ll probably be horribly disappointed by this new record. As for those of you die-hard fans ready for a trip (pun intended) into the deep recesses of Coyne and company’s psyche, hold on to your headphones, it’s one bumpy ride. In fact, some could argue (this writer included) that they should have packaged rolling papers with this one.

As the long-awaited follow up to the twin juggernauts of Yoshimi… and At War with the Mystics, Embryonic will no doubt be their most polarizing work. The album is what resulted after the band was forced to cage up its more experimental side for the pop-friendlier tunes from their last two records. All that pent-up creative energy was waiting for its moment, and this double record is it. It’s full of ups and downs, static atmospherics, and sonic kaleidoscopes, making it, at the least, their most psychedelic record to date (aside from the soundtrack to Christmas On Mars).

Nods to Pink Floyd litter the album, and according to Coyne, a little Miles Davis is present. At points the songs can get a little slow, and just when you think you’ve got a grasp on things, you lose it. Thus, we have a record, not for song skipping and single picking, but for experiencing. To get it, you just have to sit down and listen.

No standard exists except to be as out-there as possible without totally alienating the audience. Embryonic has an existential theme to it, with astrological song titles and odd collaborations, including one with Karen-O phoning in animal noises for “I Can Be a Frog”. When Coyne says, “I can be a Bear,” O gives a flirty but vicious growl. He seems to let the tape of the conversation play through the song, so you can hear her quiet playfulness.

Tracks like “Powerless” and stand-out “Silver Trembling Hands” prove the record to also be their jammiest to date, with a much more fluid song structure. For “Worm Mountain”, the blending of musical styles between The Lips and MGMT ends in a sludgy and heavy bass-fueled jam, but it gets a bit lost in the static. It takes some time to grow on you and only seems to get darker with every spin.

“The Ego’s Last Stand” wakes you up from the heady daze created by the previous few numbers with some more Floydian tendencies. It’s a sonic fury, and easily a top track, not only for the record, but for the band overall. The space funk jam “Watching the Planets” (also featuring Karen O), falls into that category as well,  at times being just as chaotic as the solar system it takes you through. Album opener “Convinced of the Hex” carries an alluring and driving pulse before breaking into a head-spin, blending into the philosophical and vocally freaky “Sparrow Looks Up at the Machine”.

Aside from those, many of the songs feel more like musical experiments, like the crashing chaos of “Aquarius Sabotage”. “If” lulls you to sleep, leading into the whispering, dream-like “Gemini Syringes”. That pattern is how this record flows: first it hypnotizes, and then it snaps you back. It’s a trip for sure, but one that can lead you astray at times.

Embryonic goes in a lot of new and interesting places but lands nowhere in particular. Could this have been cut down to one record? Probably. It’s a new direction for a band that’s done a pretty good job at that re-invention thing so far. I still can’t help but have that feeling, though, that some fans will feel a little left out. So is it worth it? For the experience at least, absolutely.


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