Released: October 2, 2009
By: Jeff Han
It's been 26 years since The Flaming Lips first hit Oklahoma City's music scene. Embryonic, their 12 album to date, is a freakout noise-rock masterpiece that draws on influences from the Bitches' Brew era of Miles Davis, the avant garde jams of Yoko Ono, and the dark psychological meditations of Joy Division and The Night Porter (a film about a renewed sexual affair between a concentration camp survivor and a former Nazi prison guard set ten years after WWII). It is an album that is sure to delight older fans of the band's earlier punk days and (may) polarize newer fans more accustomed to a band they associate with lighthearted pink robot jams and confetti. As perhaps my friend best described it, Embryonic "is like a tiny robot Jesus coming out of the womb and experiencing light for the first time." Following the release of the band's last album, At War With The Mystics, The Flaming Lips bordered on self-parody as the group's bizarre psychedelic imagery and flirtation with drug culture became cliche and their stage antics drifted the group farther away as a rock band and ever closer to a carnival helmed by "wacky" Wayne Coyne and his zany contraptions. At War With The Mystics felt less like The Flaming Lips, and more like a band trying to be The Flaming Lips. The release of their film, Christmas on Mars, and its soundtrack last year forced the band to finally finish material they had been working on and recording for ten years. Whether or this not this focus on the past consciously guided their direction, the album sounds like more of a logical progression from the Christmas on Mars soundtrack than it does of their previous album. Highlight tracks include "Watching The Planets" (that distorts and compresses the drums much like "Slow Nerve Action" off their early 90's album, Transmissions from the Satellite Heart), "The Ego's Last Stand," "The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine," and "The Impulse" (with a nod to their buddies in Black Moth Super Rainbow). For the most part, though, the album serves itself more as a cohesive, conceptual whole than as a collection of songs. Only time will tell whether Embryonic is a grand artistic statement or a cry for relevance in a world that threatened to write the band off into a predictable category of eccentricity instead of putting them in one for the progressive weirdos that they are. One thing this album isn't, though, is the product of middle-aged rockers 26 years into the game merely content with rocking out a safe, long developed style to cash a check and pay off the mortgage.