The latest Flaming Lips release is anything but a safe album. In a music climate where distribution discussions take a front seat to content and alien frequencies are met with cricket sounds, the Lips’ latest offering, a challenging double album that pushes the outer limits of accessibility, abandons their previous predilection for swimming in poppy ether.
Where previous radio friendly album anchors like "Do You Realize?" once stood, we now have over an hour’s worth of confidently opaque weirdness and mesmerizing, hypnotic grooves with rising sounds a’plenty and more psychedelic payoffs than one trip would normally allow.
That’s not to say pop sensibilities have been entirely abandoned, however. Multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd and weirdo messiah frontman Wayne Coyne are the obvious driving forces behind Embryonic, and both have an acute awareness of the other’s strengths and abstract visions. There’s familiar ground found under the overdrive bass fuzz of "Worm Mountain," and the ’60s psychedelia-drip of "The Ego’s Last Stand" could find its way onto the Big Sonic Chill shows on late-night fm dials. "The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine" is easily the album’s best (or at least most accessible) track, riding a gorgeous funk groove through snare rolls and vocal pairings with organs.
The intimidating crash of "Aquarius Sabotage" could be the backing track to a Disney villain’s speed-fueled rampage, before giving way to a beautiful string display that does nothing to prepare you for "See The Leaves," which follows with diarrhetic dissonance by comparison. The track’s a grower, but casual listening it’s certainly not.
There’s simply no excuse for some of these songs. The worst offender of self-indulgence is undoubtedly "I Can Be A Frog," which features Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs making animal sounds over the phone as Wayne ruminates on all the different animals he can be. A strong contender is also found in "Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast," which is a batch of synthetic breathy nothingness over a repeated broadcast announcement that "This is the beginning."
The pulsing bookend of "Watching The Planets" celebrates "killing the ego tonight," while the lunatic ambiance of the entire experience fades like an alien sunset. Embryonic is charming in its own unique language, though by no means is there any way to qualify the experience without referencing various narcotics and external mood triggers. It’s a challenging beast of an album, but one with a relentless, playful charm that will keep the fans enchanted and the blanket-dismissive skeptics at bay.