Embryonic Research: The Flaming Lips New Album Grows Some Legs

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Although they had formed 10 years earlier, most people, who were musically aware in the 1990s, wouldn’t site their first encounter with the The Flaming Lips‘ music until the release of “She Don’t Use Jelly“, from the 1993 album Transmissions from the Satellite Heart.  Over the next decade or so, The Lips explored some of the most adventurous territories of their careers, both live and in the studio.  However, they primarily vanished from mainstream view and, by all accounts, didn’t really re-enter the grid until Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002).  Although, The Soft Bulletin (1999) was an experimental and personal breakthrough for them, Yoshimi was the first album that really hit the world hard and gained The Lips the commercial success that had eluded them for 20 years.  The album brought them the first of their 3 Grammy wins and, in many ways, the group has been riding the success of the Yoshimi wave ever since.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming that the group has remained dormant; my views are actually quite the opposite.  In fact, in relation to their endless projects, they may have even spread themselves a bit too thin.  After 2 Yoshimi-related EPs [Fight Test and Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell], The Lips released their next “official” full-length, At War with the Mystics, in 2006.  Since Yoshimi, the group has released their music video chronicle on DVD, were the focus of a successful documentary,  filmed, scored, and released their own feature film, appeared on multiple Hollywood film soundtracks [Spongebob Squarepants, Wedding Crashers, Spider Man 3, etc], appeared on a video game soundtrack, and have collaborated with various other artists on various other projects.  They’ve even had an alley named after them in their home state of Oklahoma, where they hold their annual “March of 1000 Flaming SkeletonsHalloween parade, and even have lent their name and energy to the production of a fucking hotsauce.  In the midst of all of these projects and live shows, it is understandable why the release Mystics could have been lost and diluted for many.  Financially, the album was very “successful”, with the band parting out songs for use in commercials. As a single, unified and artistic project, the release made less of an impact then their previous 2 albums.  Later this month, The Flaming Lips are slated to release a double album, which will, hopefully and temporarily, take the focus off of everything else that they are associated with and put it back onto their studio work.

Embryonic won’t be released until October 13th but, to tide every one over, The Flaming Lips have provided a special thank you to their fans.  Everybody who purchased a ticket for the summer tour was to be provided withspecial little digital Scooby Snacks, which offered them a first look into the upcoming release.  The following was taken directly from the Lips’s official website:

With every concert ticket bought online, fans will receive a digital EP allowing them to hear new LIPS music before anyone else. The EP will be comprised of three brand new recordings from EMBRYONIC: “Convinced Of The Hex,” “The Impulse,” and “Silver Trembling Hands,” followed by three additional rare B-side tracks selected by the band themselves. That same ticket buyer will also receive an official live LIPS’ digital download bootleg of the show they attend

Flaming lips embryonic epA code was to be provided to obtain the downloads but, if the attendees purchased their tickets from another retailer besides Ticketmaster, they may not have received one.  Since we were provided with free passes to the show that we attended, we didn’t receive one either.  However, if you know how to operate the world wide web, you should be able to find them with little issue.  Regardless of what the announcement may have implied, the 6 studio downloads were provided as two different 3-song EPs with separate covers, instead of as a single one 6-song release.

The download featuring the early previews is being referred to as the Embryonic EP, but it’s actual full title is, Songs From the Future Album Embryonic.  The lead off track, “Silver Trembling Hands“, is a vintage psychedelic freak out jam.  The listener is introduced to the track by an extremely brief hand drum and a  jungle style cooing  sound, before kicking immediately into a classic driving tribal beat.  “Trembling Hands” has a very cinematic feel to it, like a Spaghetti Western showdown, and would fit right at home in an ancient woodland Druid ritual or as the score to a mescaline induced dessert trip scene from an Alejandro Jodorowsky film.  As the post-apocalyptic, jungle space chase intensifies, subtle reflections of Joy Division and more overt Janes AddictionThree Days“-style vocals are swirled into the sonic batter.  Keep in mind that this is only the introduction and build up of the song.  Eventually, the rhythm is pulled back and the bottom drops out into a sultry Curtis Mayfiield/Roberta Flack soul groove for the simpler chorus.  As an introduction to the forthcoming album, this track suggests that The Lips are continuing to try and push themselves in every direction possible and, sometimes, all in one song.

The song “Convinced of the Hex” begins with static blips of restrained feedback and screeching sounds, incoherent vocal mumbles, and a couple of sustained keyboard notes.  A bass-line kicks in and then a fairly straight forward, almost spoken word, vocal cadence is introduced.  Before the first line is even finished, the drum beat takes its role in the orchestrated build up.  It’s at this point in the song that a few things begin to hit me.  The first is that, with the vocal delivery” and strikingly similar drum line, “Convinced of the Hex” has strong undertones of The Beatles‘ “Tomorrow Never Knows” [Revolver].  The next thing that I realize is that, if one song has to be referred to as the “psychedelic” track on this mini-EP, “Hex” would demand the title over the previous track.  While “Trembling Hands” provides the intensity of peaking on an LSD trip at points, this track sustains a consistent weird-out pulse, providing imagery of Austin Powers doing The Batusi at a Love-In.  If I had to describe the song by referencing any other, I would say that it sounds a hell of a lot like Jefferson Airplane‘s hallucinogenic classic, “White Rabbit“.  I’m sure that many others will be making that same comparison, if they haven’t already.

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Wayne Coyne has always used somewhat of a breathy, strained vocal that seems to bouy just under the surface of the instrumental tracks and effects.  While the first two songs show the singers voice submerged slightly more than usual, “The Impulse” increases that effect and takes the singer to nea  inaudible levels.  Like the first two songs, the third and final track provides an intro, before going into the meat of the song.  “The Impulse” is, primarily, a bass and keyboard smooth jam, with the vocals being heavily morphed through a Roger Troutman style vocoder, providing them with an aquatic affect.  It’s a nice contrast and, although it is dramatic in it’s own way, it provides a much more relaxed balance to the other 2 offerings.

One thing that The Flaming Lips appear to exude is a deep appreciation for their fan base.  The group recently made adjustments and transferred their website but, at least on the old message board, it was not an uncommon occurrence to have direct contact with the band members themselves.  Recently, while reading through a huge Q and A thread between Kliph Scurlock and his fans, I found some comments in which the drummer provided a little insight into the new album and the 3 song EPs.  A board member by the name of “Euan“, inquired about why the particular 3 songs were chosen as the samples from Embryonic and if they actually are fair representations of what’s to come.  Here’s what Scurlock had to say in response:

They’re sort of random, but sort of not. “Convinced Of The Hex” was one of the first things we did at Steven’s and was the first thing that was fixed up and completed at Tarbox. “Silver Trembling Hands” will probably be the first single (if there is one.) I’m not sure why “The Impulse” was chosen, other than the fact that it’s a nice song. I don’t really think those 3 songs are necessarily representative of the record, but I don’t think any 3 songs could be. For example, there aren’t any other songs with vocoder. But, y’know, it’s 3 songs and, if you like those, there’s a pretty strong chance that you’ll like other songs on the record too.

In another thread, Kliph also provides some information regarding the songs chosen for the B-Side release:

“UFOs Over Baghdad” is an unfinished outtake from Mystics.

“What Does It Mean” was rejected from the last “Spider-Man” soundtrack.

“Anything You Say Now” was recorded for a movie about mushrooms during the mixing sessions for “Christmas On Mars.

The Flaming Lips B-Sides EP coverThe idea to release the B-Sides was a smart move by the group because, if for no other reason, it provides a contrast from the new material and reinforces that The Lips are heading into some new directions.  It’s a lot easier to notice when there’s something to compare side by side.  Apparently the song, “Anything You Say Now, I Believe You“,  had been floating around on the band’s Myspace page last year.  It is, essentially,  a simple acoustic folk song at it’s core, but with additional electronic accents and effects to fill out the sound.  It starts with the pump of a heartbeat, while computer bleeps and J. Spaceman style, baptist church organ static simulates the sound of a UFO lift-off in the background.  It’s not a bad track, it’s just very understated, in a Shoegaze meets Folk sort of way.  If you’re interested in the actual film that it was recorded for, it’s called Know Your Mushrooms and is directed by Ronn Mann, the same Mann who made the marijuana documentary Grass.

The fact that “UFOs Over Baghdad” was an outtake from “At War With The Mystics” is not surprising.  Like much of their work from that time, the song has a heavy political focus.  This time the subject matter is about extra-terrestrials landing in the Middle East conflict and bringing love to the people.  The song begins with the traditionally somber trumpet-line of the Military funeral song TAPS, before melding into the plucking of an acoustic guitar.  There are little electronic, futuristic squeaks in this song as well but, for the most part, “UFOs over Baghdad” is a pretty simple alt-folk guitar song with some nice little WILCO-esque piano accenting it.  The last minute and 10 seconds of the song, however, dissipates into twinkling space synthesizer and finishes off with a deep demonic sound.

What Does it Mean” starts with a slow thumping that sounds a bit like a slightly accelerated bassline from “Psycho Killer“.  What the song really remind me of is something specific that I can’t quite seem to put my finger on.  It has a strong 8o‘s New Wave feel to it, but maybe that’s just due to the processed Tears For Fears sound on the vocals and the echo that’s used on them.  Like the other EP, B-Sides has a cohesion of it’s own.  The chorus for “What Does It Mean” is very sing-along friendly and revisits the acoustic guitar-heavy strums of the album’s previous tracks.  Something about the song even has moments that resemble the moody emotional electronica of acts like Everything but the Girl, but also has lighter, more uplifting moments-

Actually, you know what?  This shit is driving me fucking crazy.  I’m just gonna post the MP3 right here in the hopes that someone can tell me what this fucking song is reminding me of, because it’s eating away at me like MRSA.

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Of course these EP‘s feel like unfinished pieces of work, because that is exactly what they are.  They’re just enough to make the listener intrigued about the new release, but not really enough to give too much away.  There is only so much that one can deduce from 1/6 of  a double album.  My hopes are that there is some REALLY weird shit on Embryonic and even riskier moves made outside of the Lips’ comfort zone.  They have thrown out some references and comparisons to the new work sounding like Miles Davis and, if that’s true, I should be able to hear some Live Evil tracks when this disc comes out.  What we do know, thanks to an interview that Wayne Coyne did with a Swedish publication, is that MGMT and Karen O [Yeah Yeah Yeahs] will be making appearances.

“We have MGMT doing a song with us and we have Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs doing a couple songs with us,” said Wayne. “For the Karen O tracks, I just called her up in her hotel room and we just did it right over the telephone. It’s pretty absurd.”

Along with that information, the official track-list has also been confirmed as such:

  1. “Convinced of the Hex” – 3:56
  2. “The Sparrow Looks Up at the Machine” – 4:14
  3. “Evil” – 5:38
  4. “Aquarius Sabotage” – 2:11
  5. “See the Leaves” – 4:24
  6. “If” – 2:05
  7. “Gemini Syringes” – 3:41
  8. “Your Bats” – 2:35
  9. “Powerless” – 6:57
  10. “The Ego’s Last Stand” – 5:40
  11. “I Can Be a Frog” – 2:14
  12. “Sagittarius Silver Announcement” – 2:59
  13. “Worm Mountain” – 5:21
  14. “Scorpio Sword” – 2:02
  15. “The Impulse” – 4:06
  16. “Silver Trembling Hands” – 3:58
  17. “Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast” – 3:45
  18. “Watching the Planets” – 5:16

And here is the offical cover art [photo by George Salisbury]:
EMBRYONIC TRAY

If somebody bugs out and contacts me, I will remove these, but I know that a lot of ticket-buyers got fucked over and never received their download codes.  For now, you can use these links:
Songs From the Future Album Embryonic

B-Sides EP

Read our review of the Flaming Lips @ Marymoor Park w/photoset HERE

Dead C

Located in Seattle, Dead C is the founder/editor, as well as the principal writer and photographer, of Monster Fresh. Creating the site in 2007, he did so with a specific dream in mind. Unfortunately, being a muscle relaxer-fueled fever dream, it’s hard to recall all of the details.

I remember that my mom was there, but it wasn’t actually her in the dream, it was actually 70s heart throb, Jan Michael Vincent. And everything took place here, in this room… but it wasn’t actually here… it was different. The colors were washed out and, for some reason, there was a raccoon kicking it with us and it was wearing a holographic monocle.

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