With Embryonic, the Flaming Lips expand upon the tin-can sci-fi mythology evoked in their campy-joyous film, “Christmas On Mars” and the floating abstraction soundscapes of its accompanying soundtrack album. The tunes on this new release flow and gel into and out of one another, full of connective themes and playful refrains. Skittering synths swoop across the aural plane like tin foil comets in a universe painted on plywood. Creaking fuzz basslines bobble like hubcap UFOs hung from fishing wire. Gallons upon gallons of quivering reverb evoke deep space on a cheapie budget. And it all effervesces beautifully into a fully realized album experience: less a collection of songs than a single musical organism to be ingested whole.
The tentative, tip-toed keyboards and ethereal strings of “Evil” yields to Wayne Coyne’s painfully fragile plead of “I wish I could go back in time.” And as the track bounces into an upright position and blasts off, the band has, in essence traveled backward aesthetically to their days as punks-on-acid pranksters setting drum kits on fire, but with the added bonus of years and years of operating at the top of the musical food chain. Even as some of Embryonic’s fleeting interludes meander toward guitar noodling and giggly animal noises (on the wonky, Karen O cameo goofing of “I Can Be A Frog”), the spaced-out jamming eventually compacts back into a tight structure and rights itself for compelling rock-art song-journeys. Like when the chilly atmospherics of “Powerless” diverge and separate into distant orbiting slabs of noise before reconstituting into Coyne’s fractured vocals and coalescing into the tight, popping rhythms of standout track, “The Ego’s Last Stand.” “Worm Mountain” drips with sludgy bass guitars and a stellar chanted verse, assisted by MGMT, before it spirals out into a breathy expanse of bells and chimes. The moonbaby synths and refracting vocals on “Silver Trembling Hands,” pulsate over a blistering snare and gives off an undeniable energy even as it prepares for its too-soon landing with a volley of jubilant “whoo-hoo”-ing. These are masterfully plotted songs, despite the façade of sloppiness and loose improvisation.
The Lips’ latest is cold and bright and bountiful in its exploration of space and sound and all you can do is sit back and enjoy the mind-frying voyage and maybe catch a glimpse of those poorly painted miniature planets hanging from wires as they whiz by the windows of your cardboard shuttle.
Favorite Track: “Silver Trembling Hands”
Reviewer Bio - Christopher j Ewing is a writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles with a girl and a designer dog. He is in a band by himself, has a myspace account at www.myspace.com/wastedpotentialproduction and a production company at (www.wastedpotentialproductions.com) for freelance film, video and journalism work.