The Flaming Lips’ penchant for party time in concert over the years has included giant comedy hands, cheerleaders, confetti, people dressed as mushrooms and fluffy animals, and dazzling light shows, so it would be easy to consider them overall as a rather goofy brand of faux psychedelic fun.
But dig beneath the surface and their extravagant theatricality has always been part of a yin/yang relationship with their music, rather than just a visual portrayal. Right from the time they got into their stride with In A Priest Driven Ambulance back in 1990, their surreal humour and sci-fi themes also carried undercurrents of violence, death, lost love, mourning and other forms of existential bleakness.
If 2013’s The Terror was Flaming Lips’ strangest and darkest album, Oczy Mlody is less abrasive but just as dark in its own way as it is essentially full of dark space, through which these sparse songs with their colourful details seem to orbit.
Oczy Mlody features no drums as such but programmed patterns of sibilant tickings and sub bass slides, the sort of elements that one usually associates with dance music. Long time producer Dave Fridmann captures a soundworld that is both texturally sumptuous and slightly remote. Galaxy I Sink shows off the band at their most adventurous, with a martial rhythm on synthetic drums, sequencers and bells, while singer Wayne Coyne seems to be floating in his tin can, singing, ‘And when you look at me it’s like a sun/I understand how space and time begun’. The song moves into a section of twangy guitar chords and then a bank of strings rears up just as Coyne says his wish is to ‘sink and disappear’.
Coyne later floats through our ancestral imagination on One Night While Hunting For Faeries And Witches And Wizards To Kill, a rather eerie and disquieting tale of death and loss, sung to a lovely melody which gradually builds in layers of instrumentation, before fading out. It segues into the similarly mooded, but texturally richer and poppier Do Glowy.
On Oczy Mlody the individual songs’ parameters feel bound by the programming, which although deftly done is rather restrictive. On Nigdy Nie (Never No) after building up on sequencers and tuned bells and squelchy beats, Wayne Coyne’s wordless incantations unleash a runaway fuzz bass. This reminds us that although the music’s gradual morphing is part of its charm, it lacks dynamics. And what about Miley? The Flaming Lips co-wrote and appeared on her recent album, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz and she returns the favour, adding vocals to the anthemic closer, We A Family.