Friday, November 6, 2009

"Embryonic"- the Flaming Lips


Odds are if you an original or longtime fan of the Lips then you miss their old experimental, jam-rock, acid influenced, psychedelic, jams that epitomized their first few records. Odds are if you joined the Lips train from the Soft Bulletin or At War with the Mystics, you don't miss that phase at all, let alone even knowing it existed.

With that, "Embyonic", is a return to their early, experimental phase. Unfortunately, I do not have a lot of emotional investment in that era. Instead of looking at the Lips' career as a sort of "now and then" approach, I see it as an accomplishment to have survived long enough to evolve their style. The Flaming Lips, along with Sonic Youth (who also released a record this year), are quite possibly the only surviving experimental bands from the 80's. There is no doubt that this is a reason to respect the band, but I am still nonetheless generally unimpressed with the tracks on their latest, 18 track record.

In all honesty, there is nothing that you can't assume from the album that you can't assume from the first wah-wah belch of "Convinced of the Hex". The problem with this record is not the tracks themselves; rather, that continuity on the tracks. There are 3 types of songs on this record; the experimental jam (a loud drum beat, a fuzzy bass-line, weird guitar, and lyrics that start every line with "she"); next, the slow, abyss-like 6 minute jams; and finally, the weird instrumentals (like "Interstellar Overdrive" but less....good). Suffice to say "Embryonic" is an odd record that is predictable and too repetitive of style. "Aquarius Sabotage" stands out as one of the best tracks of the album, and one of the best instrumentals of the decade. A list that is filled with Lips' tracks. The weirdness of this record is just as much of a good thing as it is a bad thing. It's a good thing in the David Bowie, Syd Barrett era Floyd respect, but a bad thing in the Sonic Youth respect.

Next, the fact that this album has 18 tracks was an interesting choice. This type of double album fits along with the "White Album" pros and cons. It's a good thing because there are quite a bit of songs to choose from, but it's a bad thing because it seems like there was not a lot of censorship as far as what should be on the album or not; rather, just putting everything on there that they had. Which brings up the next problem, the songs are not cohesive. Besides the fact that most of them are freakin weird, there is no flow to the album.

It's sad to me that songs like "Silver Trembling Hands" and "Convinced of the Hex" are stuck on the same album as "Powerless" and "Gemini Syrignes". This is just not fair. "Silver Trembling Hands" is in the epic, best of the decade territory, but its greatness is out-weighed by all the other sub par songs. Maybe "Embryonic" would have been better off as an EP of 5 or 6 songs; maybe the album's weirdness will grow on me; maybe the fact that this album isn't incredible is what they were trying to do and speaks to their early attitude of recording music; maybe after making 11 records over 20 years, they really don't care that much anymore. Either way, "Embryonic" is way below what I would expect from a band who has pushed out truly incredible work. Perhaps if this were their first or second record, I would feel differently, but unfortunately I will never know.

Key tracks: "Silver Trembling Hands", "Aquarius Sabotage"

Listen if you like: Sonic Youth, Pink Floyd.

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