Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Flaming Lips - Oczy Mlody Review

To me, and most, pronouncing Oczy Mlody is a difficult endeavor. Ironically, that inevitable frustration represents The Flaming Lips' latest, and 14th, studio album perfectly. During the album's early stages, without a definitive gaze helping Wayne Coyne and company on their way, a chance encounter of Oczy Mlody, a term meant to mean "eyes of the young," was found in a polish-translated paperback Steven Drozd was reading at the time. An apt translation for what the group was going for, along with a jumbled word Coyne would come to affiliate with a mind-bending drug in a future society, and the pieces of Oczy Mlody fell together seamlessly. Like 2002's Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, The Flaming Lip's 2017 affair also abides by a concept, following a journey inwards after taking Oczy Mlody, and the inescapable trip back out. With that as evidence, it's clear The Flaming Lips have only gotten weirder with age, highly influenced by the outrageous festival scene, flush with stimulatingly colorful outfits, festive stage crafts, and psychedelic music that appeals to those tripping on ecstasy, acid, and LSD. Their transformation feels forced and out of touch with reality, which, coincidentally enough, makes Oczy Mlody's absurd fantastical tales feel right at home.

In many respects, Oczy Mlody could've been much worse than it is. Since releasing The Terror in 2013, a heavy-handed project that blew out Neo-Psychedelia like it did to that pristine picture on its cover, The Flaming Lips have gone down a treacherous path of festival-obsession, shaky cover albums, and a well-noted companionship with Miley Cyrus. A few years back their unorthodox style felt natural, original, and characteristic. Now though, pandering to crowds and trends that'll keep their music afloat in what'll be their fourth decade, The Flaming Lips have fallen off the balance beam into quirky, le random eccentricities that feel curated by design. Just glance at the three music videos for 'The Castle,' 'How??,' and 'Sunrise' to see their art-form boil over into a form of kooky one-upmanship. Thankfully, Oczy Mlody finds Coyne's abnormalities under familiar foundation, building a fantasy world with limitless expression rather than join a dozen isolated songs together under an album's name. Often times we find tracks like 'Do Glowy' and 'Listening To The Frogs With Demon Eyes' bleed into one another, carrying over not just similar soundscapes but corresponding lyrical topics as well. In some senses, Oczy Mlody truly is a ambitious concept album that doesn't tread lightly on that definer.

Unfortunately, like many concept albums before it, Oczy Mlody struggles with being enjoyable on a musical front. Many tracks, like the instrumental opener or 'Nigdy Nie (Never No),' linger for far too long, intent on unraveling a world unbeknownst to us, but one that doesn't feel particularly engaging musically. Truth be told, there is hardly any guitars here. And while that makes sense, an LSD trip in a future society would be overrun with synthesizers, brooding bass, and scattered vocal effects, the lack of formal musicianship from a group who conquered Experimental Rock two decades ago is a sore sight for old eyes. As with their visual antics, The Flaming Lips' sound here feels driven to their primary consumer; millennials who use drugs to be taken elsewhere. Atmospherically, Oczy Mlody succeeds in that regard, as it's engrossing, competent, and stimulating. But if you're seeking classic Flaming Lips Ambient Pop, look elsewhere. Really, there's only four bonafide songs here that don't feel as if they're part of something larger. Not coincidentally, those are the four singles, tracks already heard and absorbed. These succeed too, but in their attempt to appeal to two diversifying crowds, The Flaming Lips struggled to make a cooperative product.

Point being made, if you're seeking an experimental acid trip, tracks five through nine satisfy that urge. However, they won't fulfill musical requirements the singles, scattered in the front and back halves, accomplish. Even though Oczy Mlody fails to stick to one idea, there is a single unified facet throughout; Wayne Coyne. A handful of instrumental tracks can't distract from his commanding presence. And while his vocal oddities haven't changed, something fans have become accustomed to for years, his lyrics are at an all-time low. One prime example is 'There Should Be Unicorns,' a model specimen of Coyne's vexed randomness. Talk of unicorns with purple eyes, day glow strippers from the Amazon, naked slaves, and bribed police officers make for a maddening track that fixates on all the wrong things. Cherry on top, one of my favorite comedians, Reggie Watts, makes a ridiculous spoken word appearance, reiterating the fantasies proposed by Coyne. An extreme example for sure, but it's not like 'How??' doesn't open like this: "White trash rednecks, earthworms eat the ground," or 'Do Glowy' meanders like this: "Drip, drip, drippy glow, glowy and drippy, yeah."

I ponder whether Oczy Mlody would've been improved had another writer taken over Coyne's duties, leaving the man to use his voice for good. Apart from a select few tracks, like 'The Castle' which pours out heartfelt romanticisms, the lyrics on Oczy Mlody are just as pointless and aimless as the lofty ideas, thoughts, and beliefs those tripping spew out as eye-opening realizations. In Coyne's defense, Oczy Mlody is harmless, a facilitator of an elaborate story of witches, wizards, castles, and frogs. Even the lyrics feel as if they're pandering to children, like Coyne's appearance on Yo Gabba Gabba changed him in some meaningful way. Actually, taking that comparison further, the sound on Oczy Mlody feels oddly comparable to the drug-fueled imagery present on that show. The Flaming Lips have essentially turned into children's music, had drugs been accepted at all ages in some demented society. Even the grand finale, 'We A Family,' finds former Disney star turned bad girl Miley Cyrus crooning along with Coyne in reminisce of their past high. Honestly, it might be my favorite song here, a splendid mix of highs and lows, synthetic and organic. Like the rest of Oczy Mlody though, 'We A Family' grapples with carelessness and manufactured irregularities.


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