The Flaming Lips 2011: March, EP with Neon Indian
Published on September 5th, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
Here at Rocksucker, we regard each Flaming Lips album release as a cause for great celebration, each one a hymnal distillation of all that is beautiful, funny, crazy, tragic, heartbreaking, trippy, joyous, abstract and occasionally vulgar here on Planet Earth.
An offering either to or from a higher plain; an epic, psychedelic, by-turns-heart-warming-and-brain-frazzling exploration of human existence. And yet, something not to be taken too seriously; as such, we would like to apologise for all the prior hyperbole. It’s just that we bloody love The Flaming Lips.
The Flaming Lips are the Radiohead it’s fun to like. In fact, given that joy and humour are every bit as valid and relevant to the human condition as suffering and paranoia, they can be seen as being a far better representation of it. We could describe all of the outrageous and innovative projects that they’ve undertaken over the years but we would be here all night.
As much as Coyne, Drozd, Ivins and co. are the complete package, we would argue them to be the greatest band of the last twenty years on the strength of their music alone.
And, given that 2009’s Embryonic constitutes (at least to our ears) their best and most ‘out there’ album to date, it’s looking rather likely that we’ll be able to tack another decade onto that assessment soon enough.
Naturally, we have been following the band’s 2011 activity with great interest and shall now attempt to break it down, in review form, month by month.
In February, they unleashed “Two Blobs Fucking”, a series of twelve YouTube videos meant to be played simultaneously, but we hope you’ll forgive us for not having managed to properly digest that one yet.
So it is then that we shall begin with the following month’s four-track collaboration EP with Texan band Neon Indian, a 12″ record on randomly coloured vinyl – so that no two are alike – and initially limited to just one thousand copies…
The Flaming Lips 2011, March: The Flaming Lips with Neon Indian EP
1. “Is David Bowie Dying?”
As noted elsewhere, we don’t get an answer to the titular enquiry – what we do get, however, is a trudging, squelchy, bleepy death march that sounds far more in line with Embryonic than anything on Neon Indian’s Psychic Chasms debut, decorated as that latter record is with an eighties sheen. Perhaps it’s not what one might have expected but this particular peculiarity makes it all the more welcome in our book.In the absence of any official breakdown as to who chipped in with what, we’ll guess that chief Indian Alan Palomo is responsible for the fits and bursts of electronic whirring that sound a bit like a robot that’s had a cup of tea spilt on it, and Steven Drozd for the distorted chiming at the beginning of each bar, redolent as it is of the noise which enters in the second verse of “Evil” off Embryonic. Meanwhile, Wayne Coyne’s delivery is in ‘bleak’ mode for lines such as “Take your legs and run / into the death-rays of the sun”, until the song begins to let some light in by dint of “aaaah ah” vocables and a Yoshimi-esque plastic string section.
Then, with “At the mountain, you scream / Now the fountain reveals”, proceedings drop back into a lull which comes across as a sort of halfway point between the sinister, Super-Mario-approaching-Bowser coda of Embryonic‘s “See the Leaves” and the more contemplative, nocturnally twinkling atmosphere of “It’s Dark…Is it Always This Dark??” from 2006’s criminally underrated At War with the Mystics.
“Is David Bowie Dying?” draws to a faded-out close on the same funereal horse it rode in on and, after several listens, it seems impressively fully-realised given a) how quickly it must have been cobbled together and b) how frustratingly unfinished some of the tracks on subsequent EPs have sounded. It’s not vintage Lips – and if Coyne and/or Palomo were indeed dropping acid during sessions, then this sounds rather like the paranoid comedown – but it’ll fit well on any end-of-year long-player culled from these various ventures.
If track one portrayed the comedown of the thus far only hinted-at extracurricular activity, then this sounds far more like the soaring sense of wonder you might associate with both a good trip and those clips of (the presumably/hopefully still clean) Drozd on his own in a studio blending otherworldly falsetto vocables with keyboard compositions as magical as an old Disney score.
Floating in on a dreamy blast of the titular instrument – or at least something that sounds a bit like the titular instrument (yes, we know that was the third use of ‘titular’ so far this article) – “Alan’s Theremin” is an eight-minute-long flight of fancy which threatens to flare up on account of its occasional eruptions of rubbery synth, but instead rides out on four minutes of ascending keyboard loops and the steady parps of guitar notes treated as per the delirious lick which propels AWWTM‘s “Free Radicals”.It’s pretty repetitive stuff but fortunately it falls just the right side of ‘hypnotic’, managing to conjure the ‘airborne’ quality of Clouds Taste Metallic and The Soft Bulletin, lulling you into sky blue daydream before depositing you back on terra firma for…
…in which Megaphone Coyne wields meanderingly tripped-out musings over abrasive yet fuzzily cuddly synth blasts, a disarming musical manoeuvre that serves both the Lips and Neon Indian well.
The time-standing-still effect created by Coyne’s echo-y, beamed-down vocal – you know, the kind heard on “Sagittarius Silver Announcement” and the like – is supplemented by the kind of sustained keyboard note which could potentially cause damage to ears and minds if heard in isolation, before the whole thing is engulfed in an electronic swarm of insect noises.
It ends, as modern day Flaming Lips songs are wont to, twinkling and echoing into the ether. Although “You Don’t Respond” is another which wouldn’t have stood out on any recent Lips album, it’s not a bad thing to have around at all.
4. “Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Truth Part 2”
This is basically jammy Embryonic filler – think “Your Bats” or “Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast” – with extra added synth drones that may or may not make you want to run screaming into the woods.
There’s not much else to say about it, really, other than that its title both references this Minutemen song and sounds nothing like it.
Rocksucker says: Three Quails out of Five!