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The Flaming Lips Restart Their Engine with Embryonic

The Flaming Lips – Embryonic

October 13, 2009

Warner Bros. Records

Victim of Loudness War? Yes

Throughout the course of their now twenty-five year career, The Flaming Lips have never failed to keep the surprises coming. Whether it be their shift away from psychedelic punk with 1992’s Hit to  Death In the Future Head, their more commercial leanings with 1993’s Transmissions From the Satellite Heart or the sprawling audio experiment that was 1997’s Zaireeka, the band always has a new trick up its sleeve and it more often than not proves to be a winner. The band’s artistic success culminated with the 1999 masterwork, The Soft Bulletin, a loose concept album that was equal parts beautiful and dark and set the bar amazingly high for any releases to follow it. Fortunately, the band rose to the task, submitting Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots in 2002, an album that closely rivaled its predecessor in both commercial and creative victory.

The Flaming Lips found themselves in an interesting position with regards to the follow-up to their 2006 release, At War With the Mystics. While its content was on par with the two records that came before it, Mystics sadly failed to make much of an imprint with the general public, reluctantly going Gold but making far less of an impression as its predecessors. Thus, The Flaming Lips were in the unique place where a musical reinvention was practically begging to be had. Enter their latest release, Embryonic, an album that is just as creative yet far more haunting than anything the band has released to date.

Embryonic opens with “Convinced of the Hex,” a track that eerily drags along before winding up in an anthemic chant that proves undeniably catchy in spite of itself. In just under four minutes, the track effectively sets the tone for the record, a dark, chilling soundscape that almost fights your enjoyment of it. Take “Aquarius Sabotage,” for example: never before have ear-splittingly distorted guitars and over-modulated vocals joined together to create such a seductive track. It’s a sound that shouldn’t be appealing, yet somehow is.

That’s not to say that the entirety of Embryonic is nerve-testing noise. On the contrary, Wayne Coyne and Co. insert enough melodic pleasure into the proceedings to effectively counter the aural assault found in the other tracks. “Evil,” is a prime example of such quiet moments, with its gently synthesizer tones and wonderfully subdued vocals combining to create a sound that is anything but what its title suggests.  The same goes for the gently-lilting “If,” which is perhaps the best entry into the Flaming Lips catalog since the brilliant “Do You Realize??” nearly a decade ago.

The simple fact remains that if you weren’t on board with The Flaming Lips up until now, Embryonic isn’t going to change your mind. Despite its complete stylistic turnaround, the music contained here isn’t interested in attracting new listeners. Rather, it seeks to give those who have stuck around for the last few decades something new to deal with. After all, that’s the whole point of the Flaming Lips – they never let you (or themselves, for that matter) get too comfortable with their sound. So sit back and watch the planets with one of the few acts left that stills dares to be original, inspired and off-center in such a mainstream musical climate.

– Ian Rice

To purchase a copy of Embryonic, please click here.


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December 9, 2009 Posted by | classic rock, Guitar, Guitars, Rock, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Black Crowes Reawakened

tbcfrostThe Black Crowes – Before the Frost…Until the Freeze
August 31, 2009
Silver Arrow Records

Victim of Loudness War? No

The Black Crowes have long been established as one of rock and roll’s pre-eminent live acts. Over the last 20 years, they have pushed boundaries on stages across the world, refusing to play their hits, choosing to instead melt faces with soaring guitar duels, earthy jams, outtakes from album sessions,  B-sides to singles, new originals, re-worked originals, or a myriad assortment of well-chosen and expertly executed covers. The unfortunate thing is, like a majority of bands who are vitally potent on stage, that vitality does not always translate onto record.

In the case of the Black Crowes, the studio catalog has been spotty at best. Discounting The Lost Crowes (a rarities collection released in 2006 comprised from unreleased sessions recorded from 1993-1997), the Crowes’ recorded output the past 10 years has ranged from tentative but earnest (last year’s “comeback” Warpaint) to non-cohesive experimentation (2001’s Lions), to a downright awful parody of themselves (1999’s By Your Side). Even a live album (2002’s Live), which should have been the Crowes’ “ace in the hole,” failed to impress, mostly due to conservative song selection light on the jamming which defines their live experience, a sub-par line-up, and a very murky mix (very much a victim of the “Loudness War,” it is almost unlistenable). Continue reading

September 2, 2009 Posted by | Black Crowes, Blues, classic rock, Guitar, Guitars, jam band, Rock, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Arctic Monkeys Continue to Beat Criticism

arcticmonkeyshumbugArctic Monkeys – Humbug
September 1, 2009
Domino Records

Victim of Loudness War? Yes

The Arctic Monkeys underwent a great deal of criticism when they first appeared in 2005, mostly due to the level of hype surrounding their second single, “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor.” The band was catapulted into the spotlight, seemingly from oblivion, and received praise after praise for their take on the British Indie-rock sound. Thus, the backlash against them came fairly quickly, mostly from critics that think themselves too cool for the room and staunchly against anything approaching the mainstream. But which side of the argument had the most merit? Were the Arctic Monkeys a breath of fresh air or a cash-in on the successes of those that came before them? Continue reading

September 2, 2009 Posted by | Guitar, Guitars, Rock, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thorogood’s Career Jammer

thorogoodnewGeorge Thorogood & the Destroyers – The Dirty Dozen
July 28, 2009
Capitol Records

Victim of Loudness War? No

George Thorogood and the Destroyers have always been about having fun with their music. Their sound is reminiscent of any bar band worth its salt and their best songs have always had plenty of hooks and sing-along moments to keep energy levels at their peak. This, partnered with Thorogood’s superb slide guitar playing, is no doubt what made them such an instant hit when they first appeared in 1977 and enabled them to maintain steady in-concert popularity through the present day.

The trouble with the group’s latest release, The Dirty Dozen, is that throughout the course of its twelve tracks, there never seems to be any reason for having released it. Granted, six of the tracks included here were previously released over the last three decades, but the other six tracks are newly recorded and presented for the first time on The Dirty Dozen. But all twelve of the tracks really serve no purpose as they add absolutely nothing to the band’s already vast catalog. These are twelve new blues covers, none of which match the quality or performance level of Thorogood and Co.’s previous successes. Continue reading

August 31, 2009 Posted by | Blues, classic rock, Guitar, Guitars, Rock, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What Once Was Trash is Now a Treasure

D2CD13Drive-By Truckers – The Fine Print: A Collection of Oddities and Rarities
September 1, 2009
New West Records

Victim of Loudness War? No

The Drive-By Truckers’ latest entry is the “odds and ends” compilation that doesn’t sound like just that – a bunch of random songs thrown together with no symmetry or continuity. Thankfully, from the opening salvo of “George Jones Talkin’ Cell Phone Blues”, The Fine Print: A Collection of Oddities and Rarities sounds like a Drive-By Truckers album. Which is to say, if you haven’t liked the band thus far, then nothing on this collection will change your mind. The Truckers have suffered from being pigeon-holed and stereotyped – in a time when glitz and glamor triumph over substance and content, the band has persevered over the past 13 years, releasing gritty, honest and relevant music. The Fine Print draws from those 13 years, and what a musical story it tells. Continue reading

August 29, 2009 Posted by | classic rock, Guitar, Guitars, jam band, Rock, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment