The Flaming Lips (Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd, Michael Ivins, Kliph Scurlock) aren’t known for making traditional albums. One album, Zaireeka, was meant to be played on four different stereos at once while you stood in the middle and let the sounds wash over you. The Terror was a doom-psych record about dour subjects. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots was a psych-pop masterpiece. Embryonic is a wild, trippy record about the illusions of reality and breaking free of them and the transmigration of souls.
“Convinced of the Hex” is loaded with poppy synths, empty swimming pool vocals, and distorted drums as lead singer Wayne Coyne sings about a woman who has seen things as they really are while Coyne wallows in illusion (“She says, ‘You think there’s a system that controls and affects. You see, I believe in nothing and you’re convinced of the hex.’”). “The Sparrow Looks Up at the Machine” has Coyne wondering what it might be like to shake all illusions (“What does is mean to dream what you dream, to believe what you see?”) as the band knocks out drum and bass beats with psych-synths behind them.
“Evil” has Coyne regretting his inability to warn a friend of people who would betray him / her. “See the Leaves” is a haunting song about death and reincarnation, with heavy synth bass, haunted house guitar stabs, and industrial drums. “If” is another song about the dark side of others, and the follow-up, “Gemini Syringes,” might be about the space race, the zodiac, or both. I know it’s a lovely, trip-out tune with water drop-like drums and ice cream truck keyboards.
The zodiac is a prominent theme on the record. There are instrumentals called “Aquarius Sabotage,” “Scorpio Sword,” and “Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast.” There’s a song called “Sagittarius Silver Announcement” in which Coyne sings about being “free to be slaves to this silver machine.” Is it an actual machine? Is it Coyne’s laptop computer, and thus the World Wide Web? Is it something he saw in a vision? We may never know.
“Your Bats” is a heavily distorted song about a person’s nightmares, whereas “Powerless” is about a woman trying to convince Coyne that everything isn’t as bleak as he thinks it is. The distant feel of the song makes it seems like he’s not entirely convinced. “The Ego’s Last Stand” is another cut about destroying our illusions. Coyne sings, “The only way out is destroy all traces, oh, destroying yourself.” The bass purrs like a great cat and the song briefly explodes into fuzzy rock before settling down into a mix of birdsong, synths, and lyrics that border on beat poetry.
“I Can Be a Frog” is about a woman wondering how she might return in her next life, be it a frog, a tornado, or anything in-between. A woman (Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs no less) laughs and makes animal sounds behind Coyne’s playful vocals. You can hear him chuckling a couple times in the song. The heavy fuzz of “Worm Mountain,” and its rat-a-tat drums, is great. MGMT help out on the track, bringing additional vocals and synth grooves. The song is a reminder that death will come to all of us (“Through the mist, a bell rings clear, but the ring is just a sound of your starburn burning out.”), and we can all hope it’s this trippy and cosmic.
“The Impulse” is written from the perspective of an angel or, by the sound of Coyne’s heavily synthesized vocals, an alien (or are they one and the same?) trying to free someone from their illusion of reality, but the person would rather stress over their appearance and “shapeless urges.”
“Silver Trembling Hands” is a tale of a woman who covers up her fear and paranoia with heavy drug use. “Watching the Hands” reminds us that not all is doom and gloom as Coyne and Karen O sing that “the sun’s gonna rise and take your fears away.” The song is like a mantra with its beats and continued chants of “Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.”
It’s a lovely and creepy record. Facing truth can be frightening, but the Flaming Lips remind us that the reward at the end of such a journey is freedom and peace.
Keep your mind open.