The Flaming Lips 2011: April, Gummy Song Skull EP
Published on September 9th, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
If you happened to read our review of their Neon Indian collaboration EP, you’ll know just how in love with The Flaming Lips we are.
As such, Rocksucker is attempting to round up their various 2011 ventures in review form, a quest that continues with April’s Gummy Song Skull EP, a limited edition release stored on a USB drive inside a gummy brain inside a seven-pound gummy skull (see below picture).
At $150 a pop, that would have been one expensive snack…but how far does the music go towards tempering the damage? Let’s have a look see…
Getting underway with one seriously groovy drumbeat – a result one suspects, due to the unfamiliarity of its gait, of setting the kit up differently (as detailed in this article) – “Drug Chart” offers us nothing else other than a three-note melody of felty synth parps for over a minute and a half, after which a typically-treated Wayne vocal rides in atop a steady, simple, minor key chord progression on guitar.
It’s not entirely clear what Coyne is singing about but there’s a desolated and isolated character about his vocal that puts us in mind of both Embryonic‘s “Evil” and “Is David Bowie Dying?”, the opening track of March’s Flaming Lips with Neon Indian EP. That is to say that it’s a bit of a grim death march, which is no bad thing in itself…it’s just that it sounds so tossed off.
While Embryonic was dismissed in some quarters as sounding half-finished, repeated listens brought its layers and textures out to play like a garden full of goblins during the night. “Drug Chart”, however, has continually failed to elicit any enthusiasm from Rocksucker other than for that sexy, Bonham-esque drumming (courtesy of Mr Drozd?) and a faintly berserk outbreak of vocables and buzzing synths towards its end.
It’s strange and somewhat disappointing to hear a Flaming Lips song so devoid of atmosphere. Or perhaps that’s the point? Not that they’re not entitled to dabble with minimalism…it just seems like a shame coming from a band who deal so expertly in the technicolour.
2.”In Our Bodies, Out Of Our Heads”
Another unusual yet pleasing drum beat sustains this one, and sustain it must for there is even less to write about here. There is the near-constant barking/quacking/quarking of what sounds a bit like Drozd’s musical impersonations of toy animal noises, as used to be a feature of their live show (see this video), there is the fleeting upwards guitar scale that colours proceedings ever so slightly jazz, and there is an insistent keyboard line that reminds slightly of “2 H.B.” by Roxy Music, a song which incidentally was selected by the Lips on their Late Night Tales compilation.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is pretty much it for going on five minutes. As with “Drug Chart”, the absence of bass contributes to the lack of atmosphere, leaving “In Our Bodies, Out Of Our Heads” sounding a bit like a lobotomised “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 2”. Even the light outbreak of eerie, monastic vocals falls rather flat.It’s not hideous, it’s not a blot on The Flaming Lips’ copybook…it’s just so damn ‘meh’.
3.”Walk With Me”
Easily the most successful of the four tracks on show here, “Walk With Me” manages by dint of a low down ‘n’ dirty guitar riff and Coyne’s detached, beamed-in vocals to create something majestic out of its again minimal setup. In fact, it’s the kind of sinister, otherworldly stomp that could well have graced Embryonic had more been put into the production.
If the constantly-sounding buzz-whistle doesn’t drive you insane, then this is the first song on the EP that’s capable of transporting you elsewhere…which, given that the lyrics concern a time machine, is entirely apt. In fact, “Walk With Me” feels like stepping out of a time machine that’s landed accidentally in a cold, barren future…that is, it’s ominous, discomforting and oddly profound.
Perhaps the highlight of the song, at least for us, is the echo-treated “ah!” with which Drozd ends each chorus – it sounds quite a bit like Mickey Mouse, which somehow adds to the unsettling air. It’s just a shame that it’s only allowed precedence in the mix on one occasion as it sounds almost impossibly exotic, as long as you count far off portions of space and time as exotic.This is far off, far out and by far the best track on the EP.
4.”Hillary’s Time Machine Machine”
Whirring, tuneless synth operates like a propeller on one side of the mix, delightfully glazed, chiming guitar chords on the other. A distant, robotic voice pops up occasionally down the middle, mingling with tinkling, glowworm keyboard in what all amounts to another psychedelic flight of fancy, although of a much more benevolent kind.
Oh, and it goes on for nine minutes. That’s pretty much all there is to it. Think “Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast” but wearier, and far more wearying at that.
Rocksucker says: Two Quails out of Five!