Listening to a new Flaming Lips record is like waking up from a fever dream. The imagery is always vivid, and the soundtrack veers wildly between the lush and the outrageously chaotic. In the end, everything somehow manages to make sense, and follows an internal logic all it’s own.
Embryonic is no exception. Somehow, over the course of a 26 (!) year career, The Flaming Lips continue to top themselves. The Soft Bulletin (1999) was their first undeniable masterpiece. Ten years later, the band has released what I consider to be a serious contender for their best yet.
“Confused By The Hex” opens up Embryonic with some of the most thunderous sounds ever on a Flaming Lips record. The dual drum attack of Steven Drozd and Kliph Scurlock are the first things you hear.
The disturbing lyrics foreshadow what is to come. According to Wayne Coyne, the song was inspired by the 1974 film The Night Porter: “The themes of submission and obsession and cruelty and pleasure really put the zap on my sleep-deprived head,” he states.
Coyne describes the making of Embryonic as the “merging of low-fi distortion jams with hi-fi computer overdubs.” The five astrologically titled tracks sprinkled through the disc bear witness to this. The first, “Aquarius Sabotage” disrupts the established mood with the sound of breaking glass and utter chaos.
“Powerless” is Wayne Coyne’s guitar extravaganza. Despite his claims that he “is not a very good musician,” Coyne’s solo here is riveting. Sometimes it is not the technique, but the feeling that matters most. Like Neil Young, Coyne has feeling down in spades. Check out his guitar on “Worm Mountain” as well.
“I Can Be A Frog” features Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and is a childlike sketch. It creates one of those moods of wonder that the Lips are masters at inducing.