Rewind Review: The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin (1999)

The Soft Bulletin marked a departure for the Flaming Lips from their heavy, psychedelic guitars to, well, a softer touch and even more psychedelia.  It’s a lovely record that explores the band’s now-frequent themes of the universe, the self, death, and love.

“Race for the Prize,” for example, is the story of two scientists burdened with the competition of finding a cure for something, even though the stress of it might kill them and leave their wives widows and their children orphans.  The initial swell of keyboards lets us know right away that this won’t be a typical Flaming Lips record.

We learn that the scientists were successful on “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton,” even though the race did indeed kill them.  The cure they found?  Love.  It’s always been right in front of us.  The percussion on “The Spark That Bled” blends rock drums, orchestral beats, and psychedelic drippiness as lead singer Wayne Coyne sings about a moment of enlightenment.  “The Spiderbite Song” has Coyne thanking the cosmos that friends of his didn’t die too soon from things as varied as a spider bite, a car crash, or falling into crazy love.

“Buggin'” is, appropriately, a song about insects.  It’s rather peppy and fun, even as it discusses bugs dying against your car’s windshield.  I can’t describe “What Is the Light?” any better than the notes on the back of the album: “An untested hypothesis suggesting that the chemical (in our brains) by which we are able to experience the sensation of being in love is the same chemical that caused the ‘Big Bang’ that was the birth of the accelerating universe.”  That’s what this lovely, shimmering song not only discusses but also makes you believe.

If you ever doubted the Flaming Lips are inspired by Pink Floyd, just listen to “The Observer,” which is practically a lost cut from the Dark Side of the Moon sessions.  Wayne Coyne described “Waitin’ for a Superman” as “a sad song” when I saw them live two years ago.  It is a song about depression, and how even Superman can fail so we shouldn’t be crushed when we do the same.  It’s one of the Lips’ greatest songs, really.  It’s uplifting and bittersweet at the same time.

“Suddenly Everything Has Changed” is about one of Coyne’s favorite subjects – embracing the idea that one day we’ll all be dead.  Little moments of existential panic are actually reminders that we should appreciate things like the clouds we see on the drive home, the vegetables we just bought at the store, and the fact that we can fold laundry while floating on an orb in an endless universe. “The Gash” is a call to fight on even when to do so exposes wounds in us that must be healed no matter how frightening it is to confront them.

“Feeling Yourself Disintegrate” continues the Lips’ theme of not being afraid of death, for “life without death is just impossible,” as Coyne sings while the rest of the band plays bright keyboards and whimsical guitars behind him.

The album ends with the instrumental “Sleeping on the Roof,” a beautiful send-off that could be the sound of a dream, a funeral, a birth, or all three.  The entire album could be played during any of those events.  It’s another masterpiece by the Flaming Lips and still uplifting after nearly twenty years.

Keep your mind open.

 

 

Top 30 albums of 2017: #’s 25 – 21

Who made the top 25?  Read on!

#25 – Dion Lunadon – self-titled

As the story goes, Dion Lunadon was restless during a break that his band, A Place to Bury Strangers, was taking in-between tour dates.  He focused that restless energy into this powerhouse of a record that mixes everything from noise-rock to psychobilly grooves.  Thank heavens for eager artists.

#24 – The Moonlandingz – Interplanetary Class Classics

A band that started out as a fictional joke between Sean Lennon and members of Fat White Family ended up putting out one of the wildest records of 2017.  It’s a great mix of psychedelia, electro, disco, and otherworldly chaos.

#23 – Jake Xerxes Fussell – What in the Natural World

Good heavens, this album is beautiful.  It’s somewhere between blues and outlaw country and is most Jake Fussell and his acoustic guitar singing heartbreaking songs about being broke, lost loves, and the bravery of river men in old times.  It will leave you wondering why you hadn’t heard of him before now.

#22 – Ron Gallo – Heavy Meta

Ron Gallo is working damn hard to remind you that rock and roll isn’t dead (We are, however, according to him.), so it would do you good to pay attention to his Stooges-inspired riffs, vocals, and attitude.  He’s already planning a release early next year, so get on this now and hear the buzz.

#21 – The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody

The Flaming Lips continue their journey through other dimensions and exploration of death, life, and love with this weird mix of psychedelia and shimmering power pop.  The addition of guest vocals by Miley Cyrus is a nice touch as well.

Next up, the top 20!  Come back soon!

Keep your mind open.

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The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody

Recorded over the course of four years, Oczy Mlody by the Flaming Lips is a great way to kick off 2017. It tells a tale of sadness and regrets that turns into a story of resilience, love, and hope by the end.

The title track is a keyboard and synth-driven instrumental that would be at home in the opening credits of a movie set in the not-too-distant future. “How??” has lead singer Wayne Coyne issuing a call to action. “Legalize it. Every drug right now. Are you with us or are you burnin’ out? Kill your rock n roll motherfuckin’ hip-hop sound.” The lyrics might be angry, but the birdsong and distant, warped vocals make one think the rally cries are actually riddles.

“There Should Be Unicorns,” with its heavy synth bass (and guest vocals by Reggie Watts), asks where the bright, enlightened future promised to us by various leaders is. The Flaming Lips demand we enact this future if possible. One suggestion? “…if the police show up, we’ll bribe them into helping us steal the light of love from the rainbow sluts that live next door.”

“Sunrise (Eyes of the Young)” has Coyne wishing he could go back in time to hear a message he ignored. It’s mostly his vocals and Steven Drozd’s slightly echoed piano until some sad, falling synths ooze into the song. “Nigdy Nie (Never No)” starts to turn the album away from painful memories. The lyrics are mostly the word “No” until the second half when they become “Yeah.” The poppy synths are also a bit happier than the last track, almost like the band has realized things are going to be okay.

“Galaxy I Sink” has Coyne questioning his mortality and wondering if we will return to the stardust of which we are made. The desert guitar in it (backed with the sound of frogs chirping, no less) is perfect for such a cosmic conundrum. “One Night While Hunting for Fairies and Witches and Wizards to Kill” is probably the closest you’ll get to being in one of Wayne Coyne’s dreams. He describes going into a tree, trying to kill a wizard, being mortally wounded, and then healed by magical beings. I don’t know what it all means, but it’s one of the best tracks on the record. It’s dark wave filtered through an opium vision. “Do Glowy” continues this trip with even trippier synths and lyrics about getting “glowy and drippy.”

The frogs return in “Listening to the Frogs with the Demon Eyes.” Strange industrial sounds mix with shaky synths and dream-pop guitars. The song is mostly about death, but it’s also about faith: “I can’t see the moon, but I know it’s there. I can’t see the end, but I know it’s there. I can’t see the sun, but I feel it’s there. I can’t see your love, but I know it’s there.”

It flows well into “The Castle,” a song about a woman who’s lost her mind after, I think, being heartbroken (or from suffering a massive head wound, I’m not sure which). “Almost Home (Blisko Domu)” is a reminder that actions have consequences, so wisely choose your path. Coyne sings (as some cool, almost hip-hop bass and grooves kick in), “The thought soon becomes the word, the word then becomes the deed. If the deed is evil, blame the thought it is the seed.”

“We A Family” (with guest vocals by Miley Cyrus) is a tale of Coyne missing his love as he drives “somewhere south of Wichita” and she’s somewhere else under the moon. They’re apart but still connected. Cyrus’ voice mixes well with Coyne’s. They’ve worked together in the past, so hearing them together again to finish the album is a nice touch.

This is already one of the best records of the year. The Flaming Lips can mix dark wave, psychedelia, and electro in ways few bands can. Oczy Mlody ends with laughter. It reminds us to remember joy and have faith. We need that advice in these times.

Keep your mind open.

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My top 25 live shows of 2016 – #’s 10-6

We’re in the top ten of the my favorite live shows of 2016.

#10 – The Flaming Lips at Middle Waves Fest in Ft. Wayne, Indiana September 17th

It was a triumphant return to Fort Wayne after nearly 30 years for them.  The show was big, bright, and full of love.  It was in the middle of the election season and just what we all needed at the time.

#9 – Earthless at the Empty Bottle in Chicago December 2nd

Earthless is easily one of the best live acts out there right now, and this was my first time seeing them in a small venue.  I don’t know how the Empty Bottle was still standing by the time they were done because it was among the loudest and heaviest sets I’ve seen there.

#8 – John Carpenter at the Masonic Temple Theatre in Detroit July 15th

“I got a movie and a concert,” my wife said after seeing a screening of Escape from New York and then John Carpenter, his son, his godson, and the rest of his band play a fantastic retrospective of his film score music.  It was also in a huge gothic structure, so that made it all the better.

#7 – Screaming Females at the Brass Rail in Ft. Wayne, Indiana June 26th

I’d wanted to see them for a couple years, and seeing them an hour’s drive away with my best friend in a venue not much bigger than the bottom floor of my house was one of my favorite memories of 2016.  They were even kind enough to let me interview in their tour van.  They crushed it, leaving most of the crowd dumbstruck.

#6 – L7 at the Metro in Chicago August 6th

Another band I’d waited years, even decades, to see was L7 and their sold-out reunion tour show in Chicago was one of the best performances I’d seen from any band in years.  They hadn’t lost a thing and showed pretenders how it’s done.

Good grief!  If these shows were so good, who’s in the top five?  Come back tomorrow and see!

Keep your mind open.

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The Flaming Lips offer great perks and a new album on PledgeMusic.

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The Flaming Lips‘ new album, Oczy Mlody, will be released January 13, 2017 (the same day as lead singer Wayne Coyne’s birthday, no less), but you can pre-order it and a lot of cool stuff on the PledgeMusic page they’ve created for the album.

Some of the perks, like signed double-colored vinyl pressings, are already sold out.  You can still get signed CDs (like I ordered), signed album art posters, handwritten lyric sheets, and even a DJ set by members of the band at your party!

Don’t miss out, as most if not all of these perks will sell out.  The Flaming Lips have a huge, active fanbase (and rightly so) and they’ll snatch up all of this.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: The Flaming Lips – Embryonic (2009)

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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.

The inaugural Middle Waves festival was an inside-the-park home run.

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Fort Wayne’s first “destination” music festival, Middle Waves, was last weekend and a big hit with the crowd.  Future festivals will only be better judging by how well the first one went.

I knew it was going to be at least an interesting festival when I walked into “The Village” area (where all the vendors were) looking for my press pass and saw this.

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Deep fried chicken on a stick.  I didn’t eat there.  For my money, the best deal and food there was from the Vietnummy food truck.  A bahn mi lemongrass chicken slider for only five bucks?  I’m in.  I’m in all day long.

Bahn mi slider in hand and press pass around my neck, I went to check out my first band of the festival – Nashville’s Bully.  I’d only heard a couple tracks, and I liked their mix of heavy rock and post-punk.

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Bully

They killed the Maumee Stage with a fierce performance that won over the crowd within minutes.  Seeing them might be the closest I get to seeing X-Ray Spex in concert.  It was full of wild guitar and drums, Cure-like bass, and frantic vocals.  People were still talking about them the next day.

I finished Friday night like many others – by seeing Best Coast on the main (St. Mary’s) stage.  I’ll admit that I hadn’t heard a lot of their material before this, but there were many in the crowd who sang to everything they played.  I liked the blend of surf-psych with dream pop.  The gay man going nuts next to me when they played “Boyfriend” was one of the highlights of the crowd for me.

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Best Coast

 

Heavy rain hit the area overnight and through most of Saturday morning.  I hoped it wouldn’t keep the crowds away, and I’m sure the Middle Waves staff was watching local weather radar like a hawk the entire day.  One band was playing on a makeshift stage in the covered food vendor area when I got there due to the Maumee Stage being rained out that morning.

Luckily for all, however, the rain cleared around 3:00 and the sun came out bright and happy.  The St. Mary’s stage field had straw scattered all over it to prevent massive mud pits from forming, so it soon smelled like a wet barn out there.  You didn’t notice the smell once Jeff the Brotherhood began playing, because their sonic assault almost knocked us flat.

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Jeff the Brotherhood

They played several tracks from their new album, Zone, which I need to get soon. A lot of it has a great stoner rock vibe that borders a bit on doom metal.  It seems heavier than some of their previous stuff, which is fine by me.

I took a break after their set to drive down to Neat Neat Neat Records (profile coming soon), and they were playing Bully.  The clerk and I raved about their set and I was soon walking out with three used CDs.  I made it back in time to see Ft. Wayne’s hometown psychedelic heroes – Heaven’s Gateway Drugs.  They put on a fine set of their sun-soaked psych on the bank of the Maumee River to a welcoming crowd.  I hadn’t realized until this set how some of their stuff sounds like early New Pornographers (which is a good thing).

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Heaven’s Gateway Drugs

I took an extra long break to get in a full meal (Smoked pulled chicken, cole slaw, and potato chips for eight bucks?  Sold!) before seeing The Flaming Lips.  People had been camped out all day to claim spots for the show.  My favorite ones were these two.

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I thought, “That’s my wife and I in twenty years.”

The Flaming Lips didn’t disappoint.  It was a party from the very first song.

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The confetti came from cannons, but I still don’t know from where the giant balloons emerged.

The crowd was jumping, singing, smacking around balloons, and cheering for lizards in yellow suits and boat captain catfish.

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That’s an inflatable Santa Claus in the background.

Their light / stage show is something you have to see to fully appreciate.  Strings of lights, kaleidoscopic gongs, confetti cannons, and glitter are all thrown into the mix.

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Everyone loved the rainbow. Who wouldn’t?

Lead singer Wayne Coyne kept the crowd cheering and moving, especially when he came out in a giant bubble during the band’s cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”

img_3644It was a great performance under a full moon, and a good omen for future festivals.  The early afternoon rain was the only thing keeping the first Middle Waves festival from being an out-of-the-park home run, but that’s nothing the promoters and staff could control.

I’m sure the number of national touring acts will grow in the future, as all of the ones there this year praised the festival and the crowds.  A master stroke by the festival is having two free stages.  The Maumee and St. Joseph stages were free for everyone.  The St. Mary’s main stage was the only one with paid admission.  Anyone could’ve come to the festival with no money and still have seen twenty bands (including that jaw-dropping set by Bully, mind you).

Here’s to the future, Middle Waves.  It looks good for you.

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Keep your mind open.

[Many thanks to the Middle Waves staff and crew, and especially to Emma and Maggie for setting up my press credentials for the festival.]

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