Review: The Flaming Lips, Oczy Mlody

The band has become pros at surprises, and their new record Oczy Mlody is their biggest surprise yet: it’s a disappointment.
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The band has become pros at surprises, and their new record Oczy Mlody is their biggest surprise yet: it’s a disappointment.
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The Flaming Lips return with their first primary discography release since 2013’s pain pop masterpiece, The Terror. The band has become pros at surprises, and their new record Oczy Mlody is their biggest surprise yet: it’s a disappointment.

The band has made a career out of psychedelic shapeshifting, from psychotic alt rock, to post-pop perfection, to mid-life crisis professional strangeness, and now the final part of their madcap embrace of pop culture  

Oczy Mlody intros with a soft start. Like “Approaching Moons by Pavonis” from Yoshimi, but instead of the calm electronica wash that is “Pavonis” this sounds like a placeholder xx intro. The next two songs are a perfect microcosm of the record. “How?” which takes the simple lyrics, simple progression, complex instrumentation trick from Embryonic classics and doubles down. It pays off, and the chorus has a hook that just hits so perfectly in that naivety that the best Flaming Lips songs hit .

This is followed by “Their Should Be Unicorns”. The lyrics read like a mad lib written by someone on their first drug trip. The underlying disco drum machine beat is begging for some of those huge late 90’s Lips drums. But they never appear. A commercial break at the end makes sure you hear the lyrics, if they were lost in psychedelic haze. By about the seventh time Wayne repeats that he wants Unicorns to have purple and not green eyes, I wonder why they didn’t release this song in a gummy unicorn.

That is the Flaming Lips trick and it has worked on me before. The more ridiculous the release pattern, the easier to digest weaker tracks. The gummy skull, 24 hour track was abysmal — if you haven’t heard it, there is four hours of the same drum pattern, repeating a 5 second cycle, into a massive headache of why. Christmas on Mars was more over-promised than Views and substantially worse, but the soundtrack LP was the zenith of their cauldron of psychedelic production.

This is truly the first time that a Flaming Lips proper record release has had a moment that felt as half assed as their side projects. The EPs and gummy-everythings had charm because of their shared psychosis. This record needed more.

“There Should Be Unicorns” is such an annoying song. Annoying because it is a caricature of a parody of themselves. It plods on in unawareness, until the track skip button becomes irresistible.

The whole record doesn’t echo though, which makes Oczy Mlody hard to truly pin down. For example, “Sunrise (Eyes of The Young)” plays out like a melted leftover from At War With the Mystics. It’s a solid track, and it reduces the amount of cartoony obviousness to a minimum. The following track, “Nigdy Nie” has an Embryonic breakdown halfway through and the payoff is palpable, Wayne’s voice passes by several times, like we are on a spinning carnival ride, giving us that classic Lips haze. It’s a nod to the past, but it works, and is a high point on the record.

The production here however confuses, at best. It would be easy to assume that the abundance of electronic beats is due to the absence of Kliph Scurlock on this record. But that doesn’t take into account that Stephen Drozd was a better drummer than he ever was anyway. The Lips have a long history of mild pop over psychedelic beats — side b of Yoshimi, the Peace Sword mini-release. Here it comes off as lazy. When Wayne said the record was “ASAP Rocky meets Syd Barrett,” I was hoping he didn’t mean the last 3 years of Syd’s music career, where the only way to enjoy was to imagine what could have been. Many techniques here rhyme with Of Montreal’s record from last year. The trippy on top of more modern bass 'n drum tracks sounds cooler on paper than it turns out on the record.

The Terror was impossible in an idiosyncratic way. Like a digital mountain that extended above the atmosphere. It still feels uncrackable, unsurmountable; like an egg made of steel. This record feels oddly easy to understand. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it absolutely is. Reading the tracklist before, “Galaxy I Sink” promises to be a Flaming Lips epic in line with “The Sound of Failure” or “What is the Light?” but it ends up more like a song you would expect in a discard pile. A melody that leads nowhere and a half finished track. I am sure this is absolutely intentional, as nothing this band has ever done has been by accident, but what is a track like this doing on a Flaming Lips record?

The lyrics on The Terror were the best part, insular, terrifying and peculiar. On Oczy Mlody they play out like a teenager trying to write a paper while he is high. The lyrics range from vaguely inspiring to cringe inducing, but just like their underrated At War With the Mystics, the record finishes with three strong tracks in a row. “The Castle” will fit in with classic Lips sing-alongs like “Yoshimi Pt. 1” and “She Don’t Use Jelly”. Even though their performance on Fallon last week seemed to be the final straw for Coyne’s voice. A ghost of what it once was live, but he still has all his Neil Young glory on record.

“Almost Home” plays like a yearning stretch in a film and it works. It leads into “We a Family” the coda of the fairytale. Both are strong pop songs, but their presence serves to annoy when compared with the rest of the record. Giving a “Why couldn’t it all be like this?” vibe, they do feel like a reward for making it through the record, like finally making it to lunch after a long day in class.

To a certain extent, the Lips have already released a bunch of disappointing records. They definitely have released several confusing ones. But this is the first time it was an entry in their primary discography. Comparing this with The Soft Bulletin is laughable on many levels, but mainly, how much time they clearly spent on the former. Throw Oczy Mlody in the pile with the all the gummy albums, the Yoko EP, the 24 hour travesty, the disappointing cover records, the Christmas piano record no one talked about, the one that came with a strobe light, the noise tragedy with Lightning Bolt, the half-baked Fwends album with that awful Chris Martin appearance, and the other Pink Floyd cover record that plays at the same time as Dark Side of the Moon.

I guess when you list all of those records, this one makes a little more sense. C PLUS