The Flaming Lips, Embryonic (Warner Bros.)
For some long-time Flaming Lips fans—namely the ones who still regularly spin "Jesus Shootin' Heroin" and actually got enough friends together to make that Zaireeka experiment worthwhile—this is precisely the album they've been waiting for. After watching their lovable weirdos being co-opted by the mainstream as modern-day troubadours of sunshine and silliness, it must be oddly refreshing to hear Wayne Coyne and company sliding back to their decidedly darker and infinitely weirder roots. Which is not to say that Embryonic sounds like anything else in the Lips' canon, but it is certainly a far cry from the uplifting, unabashed pop of "Do You Realize??" and "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song." Instead, its 70-plus-minute run time plays more like a chaotic tear through genres, tones, moods, and influences.
It becomes hard to resist playing "spot the influence" as the album unfolds, be it the Floyd-ian pomp of "Silver Trembling Hands" or the free-jazz guitar freak-out dominating "Powerless," but make no mistake—Embryonic is a beast entirely of its own. In stark contrast to the band's previous long-players, there is an overwhelming sense of loss and powerlessness seeping through every track. Even the playful "I Can Be a Frog," with the very literally phoned in appearance of Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, hints at menace and terror. To intensify these uneasy themes, the production team—the Lips with Dave Fridmann and Scott Booker—turns in a performance as vital as that of any individual band member, deploying the deadly weapons of compression and distortion at crucial junctures. To put it simply, this is an unexpected classic from the Lips at this late stage of their career and one of the most original and forward-thinking major-label rock releases we've seen in years.