Release Date: Jan 13, 2017
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Dream Pop, Noise Pop, Neo-Psychedelia
It’s not particularly surprising to discover that the title of the latest Flaming Lips album came from a Polish book Wayne Coyne was “reading”; the sound of the words, and the imaginative leaps they might conjure up appealed. Plucking sense from a sea of confusion is the task The Flaming Lips have set their fans this time around. On first impressions, Oczy Mlody is a confusing and frustrating listen with little in the way of melodies or hooks to grab on to.
Sonic extremists, the Flamings Lips have spent three decades mining the depths of noise rock, bubbling electronica, and heady psychedelia. They're just as thematically extreme, shifting from the fantastical euphoria of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots to the dystopian fever dreams of their last two releases, most notably 2013's claustrophobic The Terror. It's finally on Oczy Mlody where the band combines its sober and whimsical sides, extolling the weird virtues of unicorns and fairies not with abandon, but with intent.
The Flaming Lips are proudly weird. It doesn’t matter that they flirted with indie success during the Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots era or appeared in a 2013 Hyundai commercial—31 years, 14 albums and a metric ton of confetti into their careers, the Lips will always have a strong legacy of strange. They are, after all, the same dudes who spent years filming Christmas on Mars in frontman Wayne Coyne’s backyard, released vinyl pressed with blood, and decided long before the rest of us that Miley Cyrus might just be a fearless freak after all.
It’s a long time since the Flaming Lips bothered the mainstream with the likes of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots; in the past decade, they’ve charted a stranger course, with freaky Beatles covers, 2013’s darkly wondrous The Terror and an unlikely bond with Miley Cyrus. More weirdness abounds on their 14th album. Described by frontman Wayne Coyne as sounding like “Syd Barratt meets A$AP Rocky”, meandering jams blur into trip-hop grooves, a narrative about “the love generation” and an actual frog chorus.
At some point during the last decade – between the surrealist sci-fi movies, 24-hour songs and gummy skulls – it was almost forgotten that The Flaming Lips were actually a rock band. A distinctly odd rock band, admittedly, but still a group whose eccentricities felt bound to their unique sense of imagination; where the scales were weighted in favour of idiosyncrasy rather than the novelties they’ve become known for in recent years. Whether or not you regard them as tainted by the whiff of gimmickry, it’s worth putting your prejudices to one side here: Oczy Mlody is a damn fine album.
In some ways, music is a teleport, an escape pod that takes you away the monotony of dreary weeks full of cereal, photocopying and pesky clothes that just won’t stay ironed. At their peak, The Flaming Lips could take their listener into a completely different universe, be it one filled with Pink Robots (Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots) or into some sort of glorious kooky heaven (The Soft Bulletin). During this period the group were, undeniably, at their best.
Over the past half-decade, The Flaming Lips have given their less obliging fans reasonable cause to hold their breaths and approach new releases with a twinge of trepidation. They'll hesitate before clicking the announcement; soon will follow questions such as "How many celebrity guest stars did you say it will feature. .
Oczy Mlody is technically the follow-up to The Flaming Lips’ widely underrated 2013 album, The Terror, but so much has happened between the records that it’s hard to think of it that way. The Terror was such a profoundly personal record, made in the wake up singer Wayne Coyne’s separation from his longtime partner and Steven Drozd’s relapse into drug use, that it was more of a spiritual successor to the emotional weight of classic The Soft Bulletin, even if it didn’t receive the same acclaim. Anyone who saw the Lips supporting The Terror witnessed the band embracing their darkness, with all of the technicolor confetti of previous tours replaced by a dark paranoia that was so vivid it was contagious.
At times like these, Oczy Mlody feels like a collection of fairy tales for adults, full of psychedelically heightened emotions that the band deploys with shamanic skill. Towering drums and duelling synths add to the feeling that the band co-wrote "One Night While Hunting for Faeries and Witches and Wizards to Kill," a tale of destruction and redemption, with the Brothers Grimm. Similarly, harp and strings sprinkle some fairy dust on "Listening to the Frogs with Demon Eyes"' meditations on mortality, while the beguiling melodies of "Sunrise" and "The Castle" sweeten their tales of loss.
Last year was a relatively quiet one for the Flaming Lips. Sure, the Oklahoma vets take an average of four years or so between proper albums, but they’re rarely out of sight, whether they’re upholding their reputation as a festival clean-up worker’s worst nightmare, launching side projects, or just generating headlines over something outrageous Wayne Coyne has said/done. But, ironically, their most scattershot extracurricular activity to date—backing up Miley Cyrus on her teen pop-repudiating, Soundcloud-clogging Dead Petz project—has, in hindsight, proven to be a guiding light for this ever-exploratory band.
The Flaming Lips have always fancied themselves the psychedelic-rock heirs to Pink Floyd's saucerfuls of secrets and the Beatles' kaleidoscope eyes; and they've spent the last three decades summoning freaky visions and setting them to outsized orchestral-rock jams. Their latest outing, a schlocky rock opera dubbed Oczy Mlody, is decidedly more stripped back and puts a fresh gleam on the Lips' usual pucker. The album features a very loose story about the fictional, titular drug that makes people sleep for three months and dream of having sex on unicorns, but the Lips play it so understatedly that it's easier to get lost in their cold, minimalistic electronic soundscapes.
After releasing Embryonic in 2009, the Flaming Lips focused their attention on a string of inessentials — a throng of deluxe reissues, collaboration albums and throwaway EPs on MP3 players jammed into novelty items. They recovered in 2013 for The Terror LP and Peace Sword EP, seemingly to prove that, despite the detritus, the psych rock mainstays still had what it took to make a unified statement.Unfortunately, Oczy Mlody fails to keep building on the momentum of its studio album predecessors. Though the record builds on The Terror's cerebral paranoia, its occasional forays into Casiotone drum beats and nonsensical lyrics make it an uneven, confusing effort.
Apparently, Wayne Coyne got the title for the new album by The Flaming Lips whilst “reading” a book in Polish, a language he’s not familiar with. All too often, a listener to Oczy Mlody can sympathise with Coyne’s uncomprehending reading experience: the form is familiar, but the contents don’t cohere into anything meaningful. Oczy Mlody has been pitched as a return to the majestically melancholy terrain of veteran Oklahoma City outfit's cosmos-cuddling masterpieces of the early 2000s.
Every couple of years, the Flaming Lips remind you of the great band that they once were—and that’s if you’re lucky. While few would ever doubt the iconic status of alien-pop classics like 1999’s The Soft Bulletin and 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (whose influence can be felt all the way up to the WTF vocoder reimagining of “Do You Realize??” for a Transformers trailer), the celebrity-baiting and remarkably vapid sounds of 2006’s At War With the Mystics left some worried that Wayne Coyne, Steve Drozd, and Michael Ivins had fallen too far into their navel-gazing world of psychedelic wonderment, entertaining only themselves while leaving their listeners far behind. Surprisingly, fans found themselves experiencing this worry time and time again.
While continuing in the subdued, synth-heavy vein of 2013’s The Terror, the 15th album from Oklahoma psychedelicists the Flaming Lips is at least less lyrically bleak, its conceptual arc encompassing freely defecating green-eyed unicorns, sleep and futuristic drugs. Rich in interesting R&B-influenced textures, its songs too often fail to engage, particularly on a ponderous second half. And there’s still no solution to the recurring problem they’ve had since ditching the (often cloying) euphoria of their late 90s/early 00s commercial peak: the vocal shortcomings of Wayne Coyne – a man with a voice only Ian Brown’s mother could love – seem so much more exposed.
The Flaming Lips have always been a band capable of greatness and weirdness in equal parts, and ‘Oczy Mlody’, the band’s fifteenth studio album, is perhaps their most off-the-wall release yet. A highly experimental record that chronicles lo-fi, psychedelia, electronica and everything in between, the latest effort from Wayne Coyne and co is rarely as satisfying as it is strange. There are some genuinely awe-inspiring instrumental moments – the soaring strings on ‘Galaxy I Sink’, the haunting atmosphere created by driving electronic beats on ‘One Night While Hunting For Faeries and Witches and Wizards To Kill’ (yep) – but these moments rarely materialise into interesting songs.
In his notes for Oczy Mlody, singer Wayne Coyne describes how one song sprang from “a simple nothing of a track”. He also says if the listener knows its first key influence, Syd Barrett, then they probably wouldn’t guess its second (A$AP Rocky). Which is just so wrong, right? Anyone with a healthy interest in music would know both, but more importantly, much of what stems from his bands’ 15th standalone album never really gets past that “nothing of a track” phase.
30 years and 14 albums into their unlikely career, the story of The Flaming Lips has become one of gradual decay and renewal. The core trio of Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd, and Michael Ivins has defied all stereotypes of aging and financial success to release some of their most exciting music, even when the band has seemed ready to collapse. After Zaireeka brought an end to their early punk rock days with an album that was literally unlistenable for those not motivated enough to obtain four sets of speakers, the Lips released The Soft Bulletin.
It’s been almost three years since the release of The Terror, The Flaming Lips' dark, panic-attack-inducing 14th record. Whilst it received a broadly positive response from critics at the time, it felt like a rather significant departure from the band’s aesthetic, rejecting the symphonic, euphoric rock of their previous studio releases in favour of harsher, more melancholic sounds. Thematically it also dealt with bleaker subject matter, focusing on death, violence and love that took inspiration from the breakdown of Wayne Coyne’s relationship with his partner, and Steve Drozd’s relapse.
A year after David Bowie’s death, The Flaming Lips have done Ziggy Stardust proud. With the 12-track ‘‘Oczy Mlody’’ (Warner Bros. Records), The Lips return with a moody, industrial, and hypnotic CD that’s probably what Major Tom would be listening to, sitting in his tin can. The Lips, always psychedelic and progressive, this time follow up their previous 2013 full-length CD, ‘‘The Terror,’’ with something lighter, less menacing, and more whimsical.
Up until the release of this, their fifteenth full-length effort, Flaming Lips’ fifth studio album Hit To Death In The Future Head – released in the changeable milieu of the early 90s – was their only record to come bearing a Parental Advisory warning. The increasingly rare appearance of the caveat (voluntarily placed on audio recordings "in recognition of excessive profanities or inappropriate references" since 1985) has largely long since outgrown any semblance of functioning utility. It’s 2017: fucks, shits and cunts will happen; going to the effort to let the world know they’re happening with your own art is often a step-back; a big look-at-me; a silly, gratuitous discomfiture.
In the bits when Darth Vader isn’t talking about purple-eyed unicorns shitting everywhere (‘There Should Be Unicorns’), the odd proper song drifts by like a neon island in a shifting ice lake. ‘The Castle’ sounds like ‘Yoshimi…’’s refined reprise, glacial ballads ‘Sunrise (Eyes Of The Young)’ and ‘We A Family’ are amorphous echoes of ‘Do You Realize??’ and minimalist electronic epic ‘How’ is what ‘Creep’ might sound like if Radiohead wrote it today. Otherwise, ‘Oczy Mlody’ is the sonic equivalent of a deserted space-ship adrift in the cosmos, with Coyne as the lonely repair-bot dusting the diodes.
The Flaming Lips return with their first primary discography release since 2013’s pain pop masterpiece, The Terror. The band has become pros at surprises, and their new record Oczy Mlody is their biggest surprise yet: it’s a disappointment. The band has made a career out of psychedelic shapeshifting, from psychotic alt rock, to post-pop perfection, to mid-life crisis professional strangeness, and now the final part of their madcap embrace of pop culture Oczy Mlody intros with a soft start.