Forest Swords – Compassion

Forest Swords, aka England’s Matthew Barnes, is an experimental electronic and ambient composer who, on the back of his head-turning 2013 breakthrough Engravings, has entered the sphere of similarly styled and admired artists such as John TalabotDarkside and Jon Hopkins.  His newest album, Compassion, feels like the crumbling of civilizations on the edge of mythical apocalypse; not a bad aesthetic for the current day and age.  The songs feel ominous but filled with energy; not a calm before the storm, but rather a revelry.

Titles like “The Highest Flood” and “Panic” from the album’s opening third are apt descriptions of the sounds within, which are evocative of communal unease and paranoia.  The clipped, non-lyrical chanting vocals and clacking of wooden percussive instruments of the former feel ritualistic, while the tribal drumming and weaving synthetic oboe of the latter are intoxicating.  “Exalter” follows as the actual sacrificial ceremony, the sound of a prehistoric Central American civilization filtered through distorted electronic vocoders and drum machines.

The album takes a respite in its center third, as “Border Margin Barrier” and “Arms Out” move into more lulling, ambient territory.  “Sjurvival” is a brief comedown, taking a chapter from William Basinski’s book by incorporating the sad sounds of muffled, dusty brass instruments floating in reverb, before the huge strings and chants of the penultimate “Raw Language,” end the scene with a bang.  Closer “Knife Edge”, led by glitchy pianos banging out minor arpeggios feels like an epilogue, a credits roll moment following an intense psychological thriller.

Compassion is thematic and well-sequenced.  But while the songs consistently feel appropriately dramatic, the mood they create is fairly static, and few individual tracks standout (“Sjurvival” being a notable exception).  Forest Swords is clearly a talented composer and his soundscapes are dense, but the constant buzz of reverb, use of glitchy editing and intentionally choppy vocal production leave me desiring for some crystal clear, beautifully synthetic moments.  This album sets a mood and sticks to it, and the overall trajectory works, but there’s nothing in it that strikes me as particularly risky, novel or compelling.  I find the darker ambient trance of Talabot more gripping, and the detailed production textures of Visible Cloaks more interesting.  Some ambient and electronic fans will really dig this release, but for me it was at best fine and at worst repetitive.

Score: 6 / 13


(Sandy) Alex G – Rocket

Philadelphia’s (Sandy) Alex G, (formerly just known as Alex G) is a twenty-four year-old prolific bedroom recorder/producer whose plethora Bandcamp releases got him a deal with Domino.  Rocket is his second album for the label, following 2015’s Beach Music.  I’ve been following Alex since his 2014 release, DSU, which was affecting and emotional despite (or because of) its lo-fi production aesthetic.  Alex last popped up on Frank Ocean’s Blonde, of all places (he played guitar on “Self-Control”), and on Rocket, he shows that the two enigmatic musicians have more in common than one might think – they’re both in the business of completely throwing the idea of genre or traditional song or album structures out the window.

Rocket starts with one of my favorite songs of the year thus far, the droning, banjo picking, other-world folk of “Poison Root”, on which Alex, singing as though he’s drowning in a puddle of mud, describes taking psychedelic plants before repeating “Now I know everything,” a lyric that I’ve come back to again and again for its endless interpretations as the introduction to an album about learning how to be an adult.  The song rockets immediately into “Proud”, an upbeat, jaunty, head bobbing piano and acoustic number that, even at 4:57, doesn’t overstay its welcome.  Alex sings of his insecurities as a young adult – “If I sink / I don’t wanna be the one to leave my baby out without no bottle to drink”.  “Country” is a slinking, jazzy extended electric guitar solo over which Alex, in innumerable overdubbed falsettos, sings the harrowing tale of being in jail with a kid who had “a few bags of heroin deep in his stomach / He swallowed a razor / See I got some stories” before the fourth-wall breaking “Hey why don’t you write that into a song / Maybe your fans with dig that”.  And, naturally, the album courses directly into the melancholy fiddle and banjo duet “Bobby”.

By this point in the record, it’s apparent that Alex is plays by no rule book, linking his songs together only with his ever present easy acoustic strumming and unique but personal songwriting topics.  Then we hit “Horse”, which sounds like a bunch of cheap Logic bell loops all played a half step out of time with each other around an ominous synth bass, bringing us to the album’s centerpiece, “Brick”.  This experimental, raging, loud, distorted piece of raw, unadulterated free form experimentation sounds like Death Grips meets Mellow Gold -era Beck.  “Proud” might make its way onto the curated eight-hour Yankee Candle store corporate playlist.  “Brick” might make people on bad acid trips kill themselves.  Personally, I think the track is genius and perfectly sequenced right at the record’s half way point, as if Alex was concerned that the listener was growing too comfortable.

I think the record’s back half, however, features Rocket‘s weakest songs, not because they are too inaccessible or self-indulgent, but because the aesthetic concept they shoot for just isn’t that compelling.  The immediate follow-up to “Brick” is “Sportstar”, a piano loop track on which Alex utilizes unflattering chipmunk auto-tune and sings “Sport star / Let me wear your jersey / If you want to hurt me”.  The song appears to be about violence and masochism, but I don’t understand the auto-tune choice and I feel like the song lacks the emotional punch a more raw, stripped back version could have delivered.  The grungy “Judge” is classic Alex G but not particularly memorable, as is the careful, downcast “Big Fish”.  But I do like the unsettling, shifty looping, banjo, fiddle and sound-effect percussion of the instrumental title track.

“Powerful Man” is one of the record’s many ‘WTF’ moments- if I get what he’s going for, Alex is purposefully utilizing a simplistic lyrical style to tell a story that demonstrates a young male’s immaturity and sows the seeds for a violent future as a parent: “Mom’s in a mood this week/ Cause she thinks her family’s going crazy / Guess it started with the baby / She went for a hug but it bit her on the cheek / That was pretty funny to me / Guess I should have more sympathy / I ain’t never raised no kids / But I bet I’d do a good job if I did”.  The title may also be a reference to fellow Philadelphia artist’s song of the same name about domestic violence.  Either way, the song is catchy and the fiddle work is sublime.  The album ends with “Guilty”, another upbeat, jazzy track featuring electric guitar, drums and a saxophone solo.

Rocket is a wholly unique album, and although a couple of these tracks miss the high water mark set by the standouts, the record’s many twists and turns, lyrical, instrumental and production detours and cohesion through raw, intimate recording make it a success.  Not all the tracks are catchy or easy to sing along with, and at times its hard to see where Alex is going lyrically, but I’m willing to bet there are far more nuances and subtleties than I’ve been able to detect, resulting in an album that rewards listeners for closer, careful inspection and reinterpretation.

Score: 10 / 13

Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors

The new self-titled Dirty Projectors album is about as thorough a breakup album as you’ll encounter.  Every song, all nine of them, deals with project mastermind David Longstreth‘s breakup with ex-bandmate Amber Coffman, and Longstreth tackles it from every angle; anger, grief, sadness, nostalgia, acceptance, bitterness, self-loathing, questioning and re-imagining.  But as essentially a Longstreth solo effort (both Coffman and vocalist Angel Deradoorian have departed since 2012’s solid Swing Lo Magellan), the album is neither pretty nor catchy, and is thus ultimately a disappointment, despite its plethora displays of technical prowess.

Longstreth’s music is unmistakable.  He takes the ‘voice as an instrument’ concept to the next level by employing plenty of vocal effects and offbeat harmonies and rhythms through multiple voices coming in from all sides.  His melodies often sound like the musical equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting – notes tumble off in scattershot, seemingly random arrangements that somehow make sense in the big picture.  This technique was made not only bearable but enjoyable and thoroughly unique when Coffman and Deradoorian were manning a hefty percentage of the vocal duties, typically trading off with Longstreth and one another, but on Dirty Projectors, Longstreth’s chameleonic voice is interwoven with his own falsettos and baritones, and the results demonstrate how pivotal the ex-vocalists were to the entire operation.

Simply put, these songs are more unsettling and off-kilter than they are enjoyable.  “Keep Your Name” kicks the album off in appropriate fashion, sending copies of Longstreth’s helium/chipmunk harmonies soaring while his own auto-tuned vocal splits them down the center.  “Work Together” is another prime offender, with a chorus consisting of chanting the titular phrase while vocals meant to sound like clarinets and oboes sail about on either side of a minimalist, tribal drum beat.  Throughout these tracks, the production is incredibly detailed and shows a high degree of deftness for arrangement and mixing effects, and the album is impressive in stereo with proper studio monitors or headphones.  But where before Dirty Projectors songs were both incredibly complex and catchy, they are now (aside from a catchy tropical little beat and guest feature from D∆WN on “Cool Your Heart”) strictly the former.

There really are two components to this record, though – the aforementioned sonics, and the lyrical content.  A concept album this tight is bound to do a lot of things right, and Dirty Projectors is no different.  The cover art is a bleak reference to the band’s breakout 2009 album Bitte Orca and the title is aptly fitting for the largely self-referential material on the album.  Since Coffman and Longstreth were both a couple and members of the same band, their relationship as well as the group’s trajectory are thoroughly intertwined on the record.  Never is this more true than on the standout “Up in Hudson”, an eight-minute epic ballad that doesn’t abandon the album’s sound but still manages to be pretty and melodic.  Through a series of verses,  Longsreth walks chronologically through the relationship in plainspoken detail, unique to a lyricist that typically paints in obtuse analogies.  “The first time ever I saw your face / laid my eyes on you / Was the Bowery Ballroom stage / you were shredding Marshall tubes” he starts, adding that he wrote her “Stillness is the Move” (from Bitte Orca) and that they “Saw the world side by side, from the road and the sage”.  The song is sad (“love will burnout, love will just fade away”) and has a handful of painfully corny lyrics, but it’s still the best track here by a lot and one of the best in the band’s catalog.

Another conceptual high point is the finger-picking melody of “Two Doves” (another of Bitte Orca‘s best tracks) over crackling fuzz on “Ascent Through Clouds”, which succeeds in representing the death of the former version of the band.  “Keep Your Name” hits on a similar idea, indicating that Longsreth kept the band’s name post-breakup despite pressure to switch or go by his own name.  And I do tip my hat to the subtle self-reference on the closing track, where Dave sings “The projection is fading away”.

But there are lyrical face-palms throughout as well.  Like on “Work Together” where Longstreth is naive enough to suggest that he thinks “Love should be enough to get it easily done”.  On “Little Bubble” (the album’s most insufferable track), while reminiscing about the relationship, he asks “What did you dream of?  Can you still remember? Was it in the key of love?”  There is bitterness and resentment throughout, like when Longstreth suggests that Coffman would “Sell out the waterfront for condos and malls”, but on the closer he still manages to state that he’s “Proud and glad you were in my life”.  Some of the sentiments are so direct and specific that they do manage to be emotionally compelling.  Some of them are head scratchers (“I don’t think I ever loved you / That was some stupid shit” – really?  You wrote this whole album and dropped the word love about 80 times).  Some of them are corny as hell (“I fly fluid and remade / Ascending through the clouds and joining the constellation”).  Nearly all of them are about his breakup with Amber Coffman.  It’s a bit much.

Ultimately, although Dirty Projectors never once takes its foot off of the ‘breakup album’ gas, it really only fails because the songs aren’t fun or catchy or melodic.  Dave’s solo vocal theatrics grow tiresome, and no production trickery can make up for it.  “Up in Hudson” is a good track.  “Cool Your Heart” is fun and not a bad indie pop song.  The rest of it is forgettable.

Score: 5/13

Xiu Xiu -Forget

Note:  This review was originally published on the Berkeley BSide.  You can check it out (along with the rest of the site) over here.

Xiu Xiu, led by South Bay native and creative genius Jamie Stewart, are one of the most interesting, refreshing, consistently abrasive, and unpredictable bands this side of Death Grips. In some ways, they are to synthpop what Death Grips are to rap–very coarsely a member of the genre, but riding multitudes of innovative and what some might call ‘inaccessible’ production techniques, combined with an extremely emotional vocalist and a prolific work ethic. Their last effort, 2016’s Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks, is one of the most beautiful but downright harrowing albums I’ve ever heard, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for exciting, avant-garde instrumental music (with a few amazing vocal performances thrown in).

The record’s opening seconds are perhaps its most off-putting, as Jamie raps in a fast, aggressive voice “You wanna see it/ you wanna tick it / wanna lick it wanna kiss it you wanna whisper in my ear, bitch?” “The Call” thus rides along at a breakneck pace and Stewart delivers evocative lyrics in his trademark operatic, vibrato-heavy style regarding the desire to be wanted and loved by an emotionally abusive partner, and the rap voice that returns of a chorus of “Clap, bitches!” appears to represent the aggressor. The narrative technique is masterfully employed, but the question with Xiu Xiu is never “can they be interesting?,” but always “how much do these experiments take away from the enjoyment of the record?” “The Call” straddles that line, but I think the lack of a great melody tips it in the wrong direction.  Forget is the band’s 10th (!) LP in fifteen years, and while it incorporates some of the elements from Plays the Music of Twin Peaks, the LP also sees the band return to some of their more familiar sonic and lyrical elements. Forget feels like a breakup record, but helmed by a songwriter as tortured and manic as Stewart, the record could potentially be alluding to numerous personal relationships in his life. Perhaps it could even serve as a metaphor for the struggles of others. The songwriting nonetheless sounds pained and personal, as do almost all Xiu Xiu releases. The sonics are still jarring, the structures eerie, off-kilter, unexpected. There are no shortage of surprising, almost jump scare-like moments on Forget and the record holds onto lyrical themes, including learning to forget a bad relationship, and relearning how to not hate oneself after years of emotional abuse.

“Queen of the Losers” ups the production intensity, with huge, climactic industrial rhythms, metallic and squirming synthesizers exploding all around, a whole host of indescribable sounds, and a characteristically fierce Stewart performance. “What’s your name? Fucking nothing,” he repeats in the songs outro, reinforcing the idea of forgetting oneself, or some previous version of oneself. The record’s best song, “Get Up,” dials back the intensity for a sweet melody and some of the most straightforward lyrics on the record, with Stewart singing, perhaps to a parent, “A piano fell on my face / you told me to get up / Do you hate me / Because I seem so stupid?”  The song maintains a delicate balance: always teetering on the edge of a climax the way a nervous person teeters on the edge of a breakdown, and when it’s finally delivered, it does not disappoint, kicking off with Stewart yelling “You’re the only reason I was born!” a line that is at once simple and extremely difficult to parse.

Similarly, the record’s best songs are the one’s where Xiu Xiu can strike a balance between melodicism, exciting production theatrics, and raw intensity, like lead single “Wondering”, which couples a wonderfully catchy chorus with anthemic vocal harmonies. The second half of the album pushes more in an electro pop direction (it’d be a stretch to call Xiu Xiu music dancy), to mostly positive results.  The title track moves between sections of vibrant but ominous synthesizers, acoustic guitars, industrial rhythms and Stewart’s insane, pleading chorus of “Forget!  Forget!” “At Last, At Last” juxtaposes stripped back verses with choruses that sound like an EDM show inside a haunted house, while the penultimate “Petite” takes a break from the electronics and grind for a pretty, but unnerving acoustic and string ballad that Jamie has stated (in this great Tiny Mix Tapes interview) deals in subjects as dark as sex trafficking.  It then links to the closer, “Faith, Torn Apart,” which combines an airy, almost middle eastern instrumental suite with churning, marching beats and unsettling spoken word lyrics (“What do you want me to do? I want you to kill me.  Crushed to death)” before a creepy, haunting poetic finish read by notable queer writer and artist Vaginal Davis, listing attributes of child sex workers whose photos Stewart came across online.

The record is another solid Xiu Xiu release, as they proves once again that so long as you wield a weapon as powerful as Jamie Stewart’s singing voice, it’s hard to go wrong.  At the same time, I feel that the band is treading familiar waters, tragic as that territory may be, without breaking through to new and exciting sonic territory, as they did on Plays the Music of Twin Peaks.  Nonetheless, as long as the Chainsmokers are topping the charts, it’s comforting that you can still reliably grab a handful of new Xiu Xiu songs secure in the knowledge that you’ll still be treating yourself to some emotionally disturbed nightmares for as long as you engage in Stewart’s fucked-up world.

Score: 9/13

Animal Collective – The Painters EP

Animal Collective are one of my favorite bands out there.  I think that their four album run in the 2000s (04’s Sung Tongs, 05’s Feels, 07’s Strawberry Jam and 09’s Merriweather Post Pavillion) is one of the best four album runs in music history- no record sounds like another, each builds on its predecessor, any one could be somebody’s favorite and their songwriting skills continued to developing and expand but still impressed for new reasons each time.  One of the neatest things about an Animal Colletive LP, however, is the assurance that sometime in the next year, an accompanying 4 song EP will be released, featuring new music in the same vein as the LP, with the same sonic palette.  While the LP/EP were typically recorded in the same sessions, the songs on the EP critically did not arrive on the album, and thus are forced to be evaluated in a very different context.

Such is The Painters, which is the companion piece to last year’s Painting With LP.  I was originally bullish on Painting With, but I’ve found that the record didn’t hold a lot of replay value for me, and toward the end of the year, revisiting it made me realize how much it paled in comparison to the band’s other work.  (Unsurprisingly, this was the first AnCo album since their earliest days that had nearly no presence on year-end lists.)  I can say happily, though, that I prefer all four tracks of The Painters to everything but the highlights from Painting With.  The length, merely 14 minutes, helps this style of songwriting as well, which got a bit repetitive on the LP.

Hocketing, or singers trading off words or syllables, was a very strong sonic theme on Painting With and was deployed on almost every song.  I don’t think I’m alone in suggesting that it didn’t go over too well, both because it was jarring and somewhat off-putting, but also because it revoked a humanness to AnCo’s most synthetic music yet.  The lyrics themselves had also deviated from the emotional but fantastical storytelling of earlier releases and represented unchallenging concepts about inner-peace and unity and other hippie fare.  Hocketing returns on The Painters, but is dished out in much milder doses and feels less forced.

The record starts with “Kinda Bonkers” and sees something of a return to form for Avey Tare’s on vocals- his performance is weird, wild and unhinged.  I don’t love the lyrics here (“My head was exploding / I said “Man, this Earth is Really Bonkers”), and the tribal drums and bubbling-below-the-surface vibe are a little boring, but the song isn’t unpleasant.  “Peacemaker,” the only Panda Bear led track on the EP, finds a calm, swaying rhythm like a boat being gently rocked by a tide, and doesn’t try to do to many crazy musical gymnastics, which stands in contrast to the claustrophobia of Painting With.  “Goalkeeper” is a classic chaotic Avey song, almost sounding like it could have been on 2012’s Centipede Hz, and actually features some great Panda Bear harmonies and a Panda vocal performance that was sorely missed on Painting With.

The EP ends with a completely unexpected cover of the 1967 Motown hit “Jimmy Mack“.  Of course the track bears little resemblance to the original outside the lyrics and choral melody, but the exuberant flutes, uptempo bounce and a generally freewheeling attitude  (plus Panda doing those sweet sweet Motown harmonies) makes it probably the best song on the EP and proof that AnCo can still have fun.

On the whole, The Painters won’t blow anyone away, and those that were unimpressed with Painting With still have to patiently await the group’s next reinvention.  But I can say that I was pleasantly surprised, and I wish the band had captured more of this sound on the LP.

Score: 7/13

William Basinski – A Shadow in Time

Ambient and experimental composer William Basinski is likely best known for The Disintegration Loops, the most melancholically beautiful piece of ambient music I’ve ever heard.  The story goes that Basinski had been transferring an old magnetic tape to a digital format, but as the tape played over and over again, it physically disintegrated, leaving the short, 10 second or so sample to deteriorate, a grain of sand at a time, to complete silence over the course of an hour.  The project was completed on September 11, 2001, before Basinski and friends watched smoke from the World Trade Centers through the twilight hours from their rooftop in Brooklyn.  The music subsequently became the soundtrack to footage of that event.  Some patience is required to endure an hour of a single sample repeating over and over, but the emotional payoff of the effect, which settles in slowly but surely, is certainly worth the time.

Basinski’s newest project, A Shadow in Time, consists of two tracks, each just over twenty minutes in length.  The first, “For David Robert Jones” (aka David Bowie), echoes The Disintegration Loops in structure, looping a few samples that have been treated so heavily with reverb effects that they feel as if they’re artifacts being pulled from somewhere in the distant past.  Early in, a mysterious and haunting saxophone sample makes an appearance and lingers throughout.  The song gradually gets louder and spacier, building so slowly and organically the effect is hard to notice.  The saxophone gradually dulls and disintegrates, and soon the song becomes swallowed by a vast an ominous ocean of deep bass tones.  The piece then spends its last few minutes fading out.

The piece feels like an eerie black and white image that morphs and changes slowly, becoming something much darker and scarier so subtly its nearly imperceptible.  Its worth noting that between the song’s title and the prominent saxophone, which was Bowie’s signature instrument, the song is both an homage to the late singer’s death and an interpretation of him reaching out to listeners from beyond the grave (not that Bowie hasn’t already done that), and I wouldn’t be surprised if the sample was pulled straight from a Bowie song.

The second track, from which the album takes its name, immediately juxtaposes itself with a bright bell tone and horns before evolving into another dreamy, cavernous and ominous soundscape.  Soon distorted fuzz and oscillating bass fill in around high string notes and creepy, echoing ‘everyday’ noises as well as mutated bell and organ sounds.   Late in the song, old, vintage pianos that sound as if they’re peeling away from a decrepit wall plink soft, pleasant melodies, an effect similar to the repurposed 30s and 40s dancehall music on The Caretaker’s outstanding An Empty Bliss Beyond This World.  The bass relinquishes its grip on the track, and the ghostly white noise, ever present, finally subsides to end the piece on an optimistic note.

The project represents long-form ambient music done very well.  The music moves along at a glacial pace, but that’s kind of the point – to show how sounds and moods can evolve through a single note here, or a subsiding effect there.  The title also hints at what I think is the predominant theme of the record, the passage of time and the ability to capture snapshots of it.  The first song is a swelling, black and white glimpse of Bowie from his earlier years or from the afterlife.  The second is a representation of how time heals and soothes traumatizing events until they’re nothing more than a memory.

I could have done with a little bit more variety – 3 or 4 songs, at 15 minutes a piece or so, may have really elevated this record for me.  But the project still works well in two parts.  The first sees time as a continuous loop, the second demonstrates gradual growth and decay.  Both songs are equally evocative and haunting.  While more goes down in “A Shadow of Time”, I think I prefer the staggering bass and sad, wandering saxophone from “For David Robert Jones”.  The project truly does feel like a cousin of An Empty Bliss, both in its instrumentation and its focus on the past as subject matter.

I would actually recommend A Shadow in Time as a starting spot to someone unfamiliar with the ambient genre.  While the magnum opuses of Tim Hecker and John Hopkins can be overwhelming in their breadth and complexity, A Shadow manages to be straightforward without sacrificing production value or emotion.  Though not particularly ambitious, this is one of the most satisfying and thorough ambient projects I’ve heard in a long time, and I anticipate coming back to it throughout the year.

Score:  9/13

The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody

I’m not the biggest Flaming Lips fan.  And when I say that, I in no way mean I dislike the band.  Rather, I understand that they have some very big, loyal fans, and I would not count myself one.  I am your typical Flaming Lips fan – I really like Yoshimi.  I also enjoy The Soft Bulletin but I haven’t listened to it nearly as much.  I even like have put time in with their 1995 album, Clouds Taste Metallic, though I think mostly I really like the opening song. I wasn’t a fan of anything I’ve heard since Yoshimi, and have catalogued them as ‘great band that I didn’t really witness in their prime.’  But, seeing as how they’re this legendary psychedelic rock outfit that has undergone Beatles-like transformations of their sound album to album, and seeing how I’m trying to cover any and all big releases in the music world this year, I have forced myself to sit through Oczy Mlody about five times.

And boy is it a slog.  This is one of the most patience testing records I’ve heard in a long time.  I understand that Wayne Coyne is known for his bizarre, non-sequitur, imaginative lyrics, but Oczy Mlody sets a new standard for lazy, meaningless, ‘how weird can I make it before my fans stop loving me?” lyric-writing.  Here are some examples out of context (not that there is any context to begin with).

“And if the police show up / We’ll give them so much money it will make them cry”

“Glistening in the moonlight / Listening to the frogs / Hiding ourselves in the trees/ Watching with demon eyes”

“The wizard and faeries and witches all came with their medicines to my side / They sprinkled some frog dust on my face”

Pretty much the entire album sounds like Wayne relaying the words that come to him while tripping in the forest at night, and it’s up to the listening to try to decipher meaning or just let it be.  If you go for the meaning, you’re fucked.  Anything here could probably be some metaphor for peace and love and knowing oneself, but they come across as whatever the opposite of profound is, maybe delusional.  And I get it – “HR, you fool, Wayne’s trying to make you find meaning!  There is none!  It’s all just fun!  Fuck all you overly analytical music journalists, you’re not who this album is for!”  Okay fine.  If you love this shit, then The Flaming Lips can basically do no wrong for you.

But for the rest of us, who heard the genius Coyne could offer in Yoshimi- songs that were glistening from a production standpoint and whose messages were fun and colorful but still memorable- this album is by far the weakest thing the Flaming Lips have put out since Zaireeka (which sorta doesn’t count).  That qualification of course omits the unlistenable train-wreck that is that Miley Cyrus collab album (shudder).

But in the spirit of album reviews, let’s talk about the tunes.  Musically speaking, this record is characterized by slow, spacey songs lacking live drums (or sometimes rhythms altogether) and traditional song structures, preferring instead to meander along above burbling, droning synths while guitars and keyboards noodle through the left and light channels.  The beats are all cheap-sounding Garage Band loops that add nothing compelling and only serve to keep time with the singing.  Live bass seems mostly absent, replaced by held-out synth bass notes.  The vocals are coated in reverb and echoes, giving the impression of Wayne Coyne’s severed head floating through space, eyes glowing, singing largely without passion or character.

Some of these songs are infuriating.  “There Should Be Unicorns” is nearly six minutes of “There should be unicorns with the purple eyes – not the green eyes!” before being interrupted by a spoken word section that’s two decibels too loud and still manages to sound ridiculous despite existing on a song about unicorns.  “Do Glowy” sounds like some Wiggles song on drugs, repeating “Do glowy glowy glowy glowy glowwww” above the same formless, unpleasantly ambient, droning backdrop that serves as the template for over half of these songs.  “Listening to the Frogs with Demon Eyes” (yes, seriously) actually flirts with a pretty piano and melody line before a glockenspiel-like keyboard penetrates with an awful riff that is up there with those pitches only dogs can hear and is also louder than anything else on the song by a country mile.

Pretty much everything on this record is boring, obnoxious or both.  I think “Sunrise (Eyes of the Young)” might be the best song, and really it’s no better than a bad “Do You Realize?” with worse lyrics (“Oh, the sunset is fuckin’ with my head / Feels like a dying love in the eyes of the young”).  “The Castle” almost treads into second half Yoshimi territory with its echoing piano chords and actual melody, but calling it impressionable is kind of a stretch.  The last track on the record is another Miley Cyrus collaboration that sounds like a complete 180 relative to the rest of the record, but in the worst way possible.  Titled “We A Family”, it acts as some weirdo, psychedelic kum-ba-ya that features more pitch-shifted Miley Cyrus than any sane person can handle, singing words like “It been a long summer / I miss you it’s a bummer / Yeah!”  The chorus is supposed to sound epic, with these big, hard-hitting electronic bass notes, but they sound completely out of place next to the traditional ballad arrangement and are more unexpectedly jarring than anything.

I get that Flaming Lips fans love and embrace their ‘weirdo’ rock band with its ‘out there’ themes and lyrics and sounds, but records in that vein, where the straight-laced dad in a power suit just ‘doesn’t get it’ are at least supposed to be either fun or funny.  Oczy Mlody is neither.  The music sounds like a funeral dirge for mythical woodland creatures, the lyrics are nonsense, the album is an hour long, not a single song is danceable or upbeat, and there are no jokes.  I really just can’t see the appeal of this album.  I’ve looked for intriguing moments or references or really anything that’s says something besides ‘we’re weird and fuck it we’ll write whatever we want and drugs are awesome,’ but I’ve come up empty-handed.  I in no way recommend this album, and I think listening to it front to back is a feat of endurance.

Score: 3/13