It’s been a long strange trip, hasn’t it? The Flaming Lips have been a musical freak exhibit in a constant state of flux since the late 90s. Each record since 1997s Zaireeka has been a reinvention of the Lips. After the band became a three-piece(along with honorary member and long time producer Dave Fridmann), Wayne Coyne, Steve Drozd, and Michael Ivins were possessed with a spirit of exploration on each album. The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, At War With The Mystics, Embryonic, and The Terror, whether you dug the trips they were on or not, felt like constant artistic motion. Each one built off the previous.
But Embryonic felt like a new chapter, though. It was a point where Coyne, Drozd, and Ivins dropped that spirit of positive energy that flowed throughout each previous LP. Darkness was always on the horizon, but even in their darkest moments the Lips carried this twisted hippie energy. Embryonic left that out and was this headier trip altogether. It brought in the era of “The Flaming Lips cover the classics”, “Heady Fwends”, gummy skulls, and Miley Cyrus. 2013s The Terror was full-on doom and gloom. A ferocious electro shock to the system, it was a Suicide and Silver Apples-inspired album that was equal parts The Day The Earth Stood Still and a soundtrack to Wayne Coyne’s midlife crisis.
The last 8 years haven’t been a backslide more than just an acid trip in a holding pattern.
The long-awaited proper follow-up to The Terror is here. It’s called Oczy Mlody. I think for most(me included), this is a welcome return to a Wayne Coyne, Steve Drozd, and Michael Ivins that want to shed a little sunlight on these dark times. But there’s still plenty of weirdness to keep things interesting.
“Oczy Mlody” opens the album with an instrumental title track that sounds like a spaced-out easy listening session. It continues the electronic meanderings that The Terror basked in, but this time it’s a more melancholy affair. This runs right into the dreamy “How??” “White trash rednecks earthworms eat the ground” sings Coyne over ultra cool synths and programmed drums. If anything this track brings to mind the Lips cover of Madonna’s “Borderline”. Whatever trip the Lips are on at the time they revel in it. This track is no different. “There Should Be Unicorns” trades in the band’s previous obsession with distorted bass and in-the-red drums for 808 beats and analog synths. The vocals have an air of 60s psych and bring to mind the Lips’ side project Electric Wurms. This time though the sounds and vibes feel more authentic. “Sunrise(Eyes of the Young)” feels like old school Lips. It’s a Wayne Coyne we haven’t heard in a long time. It’s that wobbly and endearing Coyne that sang of spoonfuls weighing a ton and pink robots. “Nigdy Nie(Never No)” is a hip hop-inflected song with heavy bass that morphs into an almost sci fi score. It sounds like some spaced-out version of an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. Some of that fuzzed-out bass makes an appearance towards the end, too.
There are moments here that seem to last a little too long, and feel a little over baked. “One Night While Hunting for Fairies and Witches and Wizards To Kill” sounds more like some interlude in an experimental film rather than something you’d include on an album. It’s sparse and interesting musically, but could’ve been shorter. “Listening to the Frogs with Demon Eyes” seems about four minutes longer than it needs to be. Still, there’s some sonic nuggets to savor. Closing track “We a Family” is the Miley Cyrus collaboration we knew was going to be inevitable on this album, and while it’s not terrible it’s not nearly as endearing as all involved hoped it would be. Still, tracks like the warm and lovely “The Castle” and the urgent “Almost Home(Blisko Domu)” make up for the tracks that falter.
Oczy Mlody sees The Flaming Lips revisiting some classic sounds while still pushing themselves forward into new territory. It may not be a classic now, but it gets better with each listen. Put on some headphones and let it in your head.