A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the Oczy Mlody LP by The Flaming Lips.
It has been pretty evident that The Flaming Lips were in need of a change over the last few releases, the band just wasn’t sure what needed to happen in that capacity and so elected to throw everything at the wall to see what might stick. They tried getting darker and more dissonant on The Terror, but that didn’t work out so well because it went against the heart of the band (Flaming Lips are a pop band – no matter how much they enjoy pushing the boundaries associated with that tag). They discovered that they didn’t need all they guests they could enlist diluting their sound (which they’d done with A Little Help from my Fwends) and found they couldn’t quell their fans’ hunger for new music effectively, no matter which band they chose to cover (be it The Beatles or Pink Floyd). Realistically, the best and most satisfying thing the group did over the last few years was reorganize/reconstitute themselves in a different arrangement for Electric Würms and release the Muzik Die Schwer Zu Twerk EP; but given the manner in which that came together, calling it a Flaming Lips release is debatable. No, the band needed to play closer to their strengths – compose songs with warmer melodies and closer-to-alt-rock arrangements (be they closer to Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots or At War with The Mystics) and feature some DIY ambition along with a bit of camp for flavor and fortune – and they’ve remembered that well on Oczy Mlody, the group’s fourteenth studio album.
First, it’s important to note that everything about Oczy Mlody is a process – all of what listeners hear is building toward something, but none of it is rushed. That said, the album’s A-side begins by coloring the perceptions of listeners with the instrumental title track. There, after the song points listeners in the direction in which the album will be headed with some spacey sounds and a hopeful, reoccurring synth refrain, keyboardist Steven Drozd adds a deeper rhythm figure beneath the song which adds some warmth and muscular drive, and it is that which holds listeners transfixed. It is deep, dark, beautiful and hypnotizing from the time it appears until the song ends, moments later.
That deep and dark intonation proves to be the tie which binds the A-side of Oczy Mlody together, but that is certainly not to say that the side does not progress as it makes its way through. After “Oczy Mlody” lets out, the band begins painting a perfectly warm but abstract soundscape (which features bombastic, Pink Floyd-ian synths blasts coupled with birds chirping is weird no matter where your sensibilities point) while singer Wayne Coyne begins free associating different phrases which soon begin to resemble a sociological treatise on drug legislation at the opening of “How??” (go ahead and follow “White trash, rednecks, earthworms eat the ground/ Legalize it – every drug right now/ Are you with us – are you burning out/ Kill your rock n’ roll, motherfuckin’ hip hop sound” and just see what conclusion you arrive at, reader) but end in perfect isolation and frustration (“I tried to tell you but I don’t know how”) before trundling further along the dark path the band has appeared to cut for themselves. While it might seem unlikely on paper, the results in “How??” prove to be heartbreaking; as Pink Floyd used to do, Flaming Lips design a meticulously sterile sonic space and just let listeners feel the chill radiate off of it before adding some warmth and humanity to it. Combined with “Oczy Mlody” too, longtime fans will recognize and be elated by a thematic movement already present in the running of Oczy Mlody and, while it might not be perfectly clear where the album’s headed, the movement alone is enough to inspire excitement and intrigue.
While it might not have been clear as early as two songs in, it doesn’t take long for listeners to realize that what’s happening here is a process of warming and building toward a fresh and renewed Flaming Lips as a whole. While “There Should Be Unicorns” once again features the ominous figure, it also sports a more articulated drum part which makes it move in a more spry manner, and the multi-tracked vocal performance inserts a greater human presence into the song. “Sunrise” sees the band edge closer to a human tone too, but it is the positively groovy “Nigdy Nigh (Never No)” that ends the side which really removes all doubt of where both the Flaming Lips and Oczy Mlody are headed. There, listeners who have gone top to bottom with the first side of the album will be unable to deny that they feel as though they’ve both reached an important summit in the album’s development as well as feeling like they’re being rewarded; suddenly, Drozd’s keyboards feel as though they’ve taken on a new life as they begin to pan around the mix, while the bass adopts a more mobile rhythm (more quarter notes instead of half and whole notes) and the drums feel more human thanks to the addition of hand claps in the mix. It might sound simple in print, but the development the development that “Nigdy Nigh” represents is genuinely profound in the context of the music’s development both on this album and on the releases Flaming Lips have put out in the last decade.
After listeners hurriedly flip the record over to keep its energy up, they’ll find that the development which culminated with “Nigdy Nigh” on the A-side just keeps rolling beautifully on the B-. As soon as “Galaxy I Sink” opens, listeners will be able to mark the enduring threads and patterns as slithering sounds snake through the left and right channels and begin to present a more animated mix as a result. Likewise, Wayne Coyne’s lyrics take on a more “human” quality as he offers a sweet, loverly note for the song (“I saw the universe in your giant eyes/ I want to touch your mind, hold it, go inside”) and only proceeds to refine his romantic intentions as the song continues. Needless to say, the warmth is clearly building there, and does so through “Listening to the Frogs With Demon Eyes” and the positively poppy “The Castle” too – but by the time the running reaches “We A Family,” listeners will find to their joy that the transition is finally complete and the Flaming Lips have returned from the dark night of the tortured mechanical soul that they’d been lost in for nine years. Here, the composition of the song flows mercurially, but the bent is most definitely a pop one over the dystopian thing the band had been trapped in for the last several releases. Suddenly, Coyne’s voice (while still raspy) sounds buoyant and warm instead of haunted or worried as it has been, and listeners will find it easy to respond to the change. When Coyne offers up “It’s been a long cold winter/ feels like it’s been forever now” at the opening of the song, listeners will have a hard time disagreeing with him – but they’ll be just as happy as the singer seems to be at the change, and there clearly doesn’t feel as though there will be any going back (for now). Because of that, when the song ends four minutes later, listeners will be left with a warm and bright sensation of a sort they likely haven’t felt from the Flaming Lips in a decade, and it is good.
…And in that end, after “We A Family” ends and listeners are left to weigh what they’ve just experienced, they’ll find it hard to not feel some jubilation at the possibilities left open by the end of Oczy Mlody. Those who run front-to-back with the black, single-plate vinyl release of the album will know that there is clearly a new dawn on the rise here and, while it is possible that the band may turn away from it on their next album, it’s unlikely. Oczy Mlody is another bold new beginning for Flaming Lips and only fools would waste the day – so here’s hoping that they do not. [Bill Adams]
The black, single LP edition of Oczy Mlody by the Flaming Lips is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.