In recent years, The Flaming Lips have slotted into a steady routine of a roughly four year gap between records, with an array of collaborations filling the gaps, dating back to the release of At War With The Mystics in 2006. They’ve always endeavoured to test boundaries, to try things during their Butthole Surfers indebted live shows in the eighties, through Zaireeka’s innovative approach, right up to more divisive recent efforts such as ‘Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz’. One thing for sure, with the exception of the aforementioned …Mystics, is that when Coyne, Drozd and Ivins come to release a studio album as The Flaming Lips, quality is almost a given.
On a rich run of form with Embryonic, The Terror and Peace Sword EP, Oczy Mlody is their 15th full length LP and once more reunites them with erstwhile producer Dave Fridmann. Touted in advance as a return to the Soft Bulletin/Yoshimi era stylings that brought them to a wider audience, Oczy Mlody is, in reality, a far more challenging and at times confounding proposition.
The insular ruin and harrowing tone of The Terror has evolved into an outward looking sense of disdain, though coupled with a more diverse, brighter tonal palette. The title track sets the tone, bursts of feedback and glitchy synths over programmed beats serve to create a sound, a world in which this collection of songs can flourish. From the equally despairing and hopeful ‘How‘, to the simplistic, mantra style ‘Nigdy Nie(Never No)’ which culminates in a wild fuzz bass driven wig out, and the paper thin, gorgeously melodic ‘Sunrise(Eyes of the Young)’, Coyne & Drozd are leading the Lips in a variety of intriguing directions, at all times underpinned by the terribly underrated bass playing of Ivins.
Reggie Watts pops up for a cameo on’ There Should Be Unicorns’, reinforcing the Lips manifesto for a utopian world, there’s a delightful sojourn into spaghetti Western guitar in the string drenched latter half of ‘Galaxy I Sink’, and it all comes to a close with the huge, melodic ‘We A Family’, featuring their most regular recent collaborator, Miley Cyrus, delivering a typically strong vocal.
But the centrepiece of the record is, beyond doubt, the raw, emotional ‘The Castle’, written in the aftermath of a friend’s suicide and perhaps closest musically to Soft Bulletin/Yoshimi.
Coyne delivers a heartbreaking vocal turn, singing of how “…the castle can never be rebuilt again, no way…”. Throughout, one cannot but admire Drozd’s perfectly judged musical direction, juxtaposing an array of synths and programmed drums with melodic guitar and lush harmonies. In this rich vein of late career form, it is imperative to respect his importance.
Described by Coyne as being like, “Syd Barrett meets A$AP Rocky getting trapped in a fairy tale from the future”, Oczy Mlody (translating to Eyes of the Young in Polish) is a spare, sweetly melodic, groove oriented record. We’re told that tracks on this record date back to 2012, theirs has become a scattergun method of making music, striking while the iron is hot but allowing an idea to breathe. Though not nailing it every time, they’re still delivering quality records. Long may it continue.