Since 1983, The Flaming Lips have set their own path. After spending much of the eighties trying to find a journey to go on and stick to, their early work wan’t as concise as what would follow in the nineties and beyond. Always experimenting and reinventing, the Oklahoma group seems to always been in the midst of figuring out one narrative-make it interesting. In the years since The Soft Bulletin, the band has opened up with collaborations and new experimentation. While most of what’s been tried has been great and some of it hasn’t hit, the ability to create while still looking for new things to try has paid off. On their sixteenth studio album American Head the experimental group continues to explore while revisiting the tones of the past without sounding antiquated.
The playful melodies within the album are stunning. The opening track “Will You Return/When You Come Down” is a great example of this. Between the piano and the clusters of synth driven sounds, Wayne Coyne sings sincerely into the void. The production is impressive but not intrusive as these wisps culminate to weave a tone that’s beautifully landscaped. This become exponentially greater on the following song “Watching the Lightbugs Glow.” Touching on these almost Sgt. Pepper’s moments, the band plays in a world that’s lit by hypnotic falsetto and a concert bass drum. The hollow becomes hallowed and the group takes things into a direction that you’ve heard from them before. Though here, it’s not reminiscent, rather a guide in a direction to take the track.
While “Dinosaurs on the Mountain” delivers that much needed pop gaze, and “Mother I’ve Taken LSD offers some somber tones, the album still holds celebratory sounds. “At the Movies on Quaaludes” mixes the two sides of the album. A space between the symphonic happiness and the somber subject matter of losing friends from drug experimentation. The irony and full circle approach feels intentional and without notice. And while “When We Die When We’re High” has moments of stark reality intertwined with harsh notes that are like the barking dogs of life’s saddest moments, the orchestral graces here show the band at their best. Within the psychic synths and the key derived melody beats the heart of a rock band wanting to still push the envelope.
Though with all of this the favored song on this grand release comes with “Flowers of Neptune 6.” The song not only has these breathy stabs of vocals underneath the organ, acoustic and the drum kit, but the vocals give way to a new tone from the band. Steering from the mundane, the way the song plays out is like a good acid trip, sounds dancing between both sides of your headphones. What works best beyond the expansive sounds, is Kacey Musgraves. Her vocals offer a calming alter effect of the song that’s very much like doing good drugs. The way she balances Coyne’s vocals is extraordinary, while the band continues to make music that’s just as interesting.
American Head can be purchased from Warner Records in various bundles and formats. It’s ready to stream wherever you stream music or it can be bought from all digital music stores. The Flaming Lips will be on tour starting January 25 in Los Angeles, CA at The Wiltern until August 20 at Psycho Las Vegas in Las Vegas, NV. Their tour schedule is available here. Due to COVID-19, these dates could be subject to change.
Image Credits: Photo by George Salisbury.