Flaming Lips return to sonic freakouts on new 18-song double-album 'Embryonic'

The Flaming Lips have never stopped being gloriously weird. It’s become a calling card of sorts that encompasses the band’s albums, trippy movies and riotous live shows complete with confetti and animal costumes.

The group’s past few releases have largely resembled the stage shows: they’ve been busy, vibrant, color-saturated affairs with the loony energy of a cartoon. Not “Embryonic.”

The Oklahoma quartet’s latest (Warner Bros.) is a return to the spacey sonic freakouts that earned the Lips their reputation for weirdness in the first place.

Recorded largely in multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd’s living room, “Embryonic” is 18 tracks and 70 minutes long, much of it consumed with pyschedelic jams that unfold slowly through shifting soundscapes and pulsing drones. It’s darker, deeper and less immediately accessible than candy-colored rave-ups like “Fight Test” and “The W.A.N.D.” (or, for that matter, “Race for the Prize” or “She Don’t Use Jelly”), but it’s also hypnotic.

The influence of early Pink Floyd has never been clearer than on opener “Convinced of the Hex.” The tune starts with abrasive swipes of guitar, then a circular bass line and meandering organ, held together by clattering drums and Wayne Coyne’s oddly affectless vocals. Think of it as “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” for the 21st century.

That same vibe permeates most of the album, which is awash in reverb and instruments pushed just slightly into the red for a crackling, overdriven sound. Lush bursts of what sounds like harp come floating through “Scorpio Sword,” and stabbing bolts from a synthesizer cut through the ambient haze of “Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast” (there’s an astrology theme here).

Coyne sounds wistful on “Evil” as he sings, “I wish I could go back in time,” and pushes his voice to its limit to compete with the gritty, blaring bass and electronic blorps of “Worm Mountain.”

“Embryonic” is a lot to take in at one sitting, and there are definitely easier places for the uninitiated to start. Even so, the Lips’ latest is an adventurous addendum to the band’s already venturesome catalog.

— Eric R. Danton

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