Originally posted on Oct. 15, 2009 at http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.ListAll&friendID=483132786
Yes Yes Yes: So Embryonic It’s All Right
“I’ve been born before, I’m gettin’ used to it” -“Moth in the Incubator,” Released June 22, 1993 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZ73IZIWam0
“From this moment on, blaring like a trumpet… the confidence of knowing.” -“The Spark that Bled” Released stateside June 22, 1999 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFignuwzpuo
–Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips’ closing set of All Tomorrows Parties NY 2009: “This has to be the greatest collection of underground music that’s ever been assembled…we’ve done a lot of cool things…” “…but this is the coolest by far”-Steven Drozd in response to Wayne at ATP with robotic voice, September 13, 2009 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNTLdyOGpRQ
“The Beastie Boys had just released Ill Communication… The Breeders were on the radio, and we played with the Boredoms, Stereolab, the Palace Brothers and Guided by Voices.” –Wayne Coyne’s reasons in Rolling Stone 1089 (Oct. 15, 2009) for singling out the best festival The Flaming Lips have ever played as Lollapalooza 1994
“This really isn’t about the tenth anniversary of The Soft Bulletin, the fifteenth of their Billboard debut, the twentieth of their climb through the underground or the twenty-fifth of their recording career… this is about all we have: now!” -PsychExFutureHeart’s “Happy Anniversary Soft Bulletin” blog, June 22, 2009
Three and half months ago Psych Explorations of the Future Heart made its way onto the internet with an essay/ blog to mark the tenth anniversary of The Soft Bulletin’s U.S. release and consider all the Lips achieved in the decade that followed. That piece also looked back twenty-five years to their recording debut and first tour, twenty years ago to the culminative breaking points and breakthroughs of their underground indie years and fifteen years ago to the their “mainstreaming” of sorts (they were on Beavis and Butthead in March 1994 and over the course of the rest of that year were featured in Rolling Stone magazine as one of the key bands of Lollapalooza 1994, got heavy MTV airplay, topped the Billboard Heatseekers Album chart with Transmission from the Satellite Heart, premiered on the Billboard Hot 100 and scored a Modern Rock Tracks hit with “She Don’t Use Jelly”)…but those were just details from the ever-evolving cult rock n’ roll phenomenon that is The Flaming Lips. What the piece was really about was uncertainty -“They traveled so far between the releases of “Drug Machine” (January 1989) and The Soft Bulletin (June 1999), yet in some ways, so little had changed”- and the million possibilities that came from the Lips embracing the unknown through following their interests in the “now.” In the three and half months that have followed that piece, The Flaming Lips have continued to do just that with a renewed vitality that even has long time fans surprised. That blog mentioned the (then) upcoming Embryonic, but it didn’t (and couldn’t) articulate the enduring creative extreme the Lips now undeniable embody. Back in June word of a new album was sweet, and that it would be a double album was sweeter. Now that the album is out we can see Embryonic isn’t sweet, it’s The Flaming Lips born again.
From noon to midnight today, The Flaming Lips will be hosting a special pop-up store and concert event at The Nike Montalban Theater in Hollywood, CA to celebrate Embryonic and its “cool new sound”. The store will sell limited edition and otherwise rare merch, host the world premiere screening of their video for “Watching the Planets” and tie in with the MySpace Secret Show series. According to Wayne’s poster for the free (for some) event at http://blogs.myspace.com/flaminglips, “THE FLAMING LIPS WILL PLAY SONGS AND SIGN YOUR RECORDS AND WILL SMILE AND WILL TAKE A PHOTO WITH YOU!! OH YES.” Passes were given out by KCRW 89.9 FM, LA Weekly and MySpace, as well as to all those who bought Embryonic at Amoeba Music Hollywood since its release on the 13th. Others will wait in line for first come, first served entrance to the Secret Show at 7:00 PM … and the rest of us can watch from a web stream.
So what exactly happened between that post on June 22 and the secret 1200 capacity show happening today? There were gigs in Switzerland and Finland in late June, but the real excitement started with their headlining set at the Pitchfork Music Festival on July 19: they played “Bad Days” for the first time in this decade, “Silver Trembling Hands” for the first time in this country and “Convinced of the Hex” and “Enthusiasm for Life Defeats Existential Fear” (as voted for by fans) for the first time ever. They also debuted new instrumental intro music at Pitchfork to accompany the premiere of a revamped stage entrance spectacle (the members of the band theatrically appear via a surreal simulated birth) and refashioned costumes for the fan dancers. After an Australian mini-tour -including a radio session with Triple J (as can be seen in this playlist from PsychExFutureHeart) and an interview with MusicFeeds (Australia’s leading independently owned music website)- and dates at Japan’s Summer Sonic (watch PsychExFutureHeart’s playlist), The Lips brought the recent show additions/ changes on their American Summer 2009 tour. In September they played stadiums on Coldplay’s European tour (and made a side trip to Ireland for Electric Picnic), then returned to New York to curate and headline All Tomorrow’s Parties. Is there any other band in the world that would play Paris’ Parc des Princes stadium (capacity 48,712) with Coldplay, and a few days later have Boris perform Feedbacker, Bob Mould play a Husker Du set with No Age, the Boredoms lead nine drummers in a Boa Drum, Caribou create a Vibration Ensemble one-off with Sun Ra Arkestra’s Marshall Allen, Oneida record a psych-noise jam (with numerous guests, including the dual drumming aid of Kliph and Steven at one point), and Deerhoof collaborate with Martha Colburn on sounds and visions (to say nothing of Hopewell, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Menomena, Super Furry Animals and others)?
All of the above was transformed from isolated events to the psych-up steps towards today by how they were presented in person and further exposed to fans that weren’t there. The Pitchfork show wasn’t just for Chicago, it was for anybody with web access. Their entire set was wonderfully shot from multiple angles and streamed live. Don’t depend on tapers to hear their summer American tour, The Lips and their crew recorded them for fans. If listening to the summer shows doesn’t stimulate you enough, videos spread all over the internet (particularly YouTube) feature large chunks in relatively high quality of virtually every show. The West Coast dates of the August tour in particular yielded perhaps the best night-by-night fan footage (at least of what’s uploaded on video sites) of any tour leg in the Okies’ career (check out PsychExFutureHeart’s How the West Was Won 2009 playlist, a virtual August show). Until there’s a TV station devoted to the Lips, it’s not likely to get much better this. In fact, the Lips were on semi-regular rebroadcast rotation this past summer on VH1-Classic (as part of The Who Rock Honors) and Fuse (Saturday late nights were devoted to The Best of Bonnaroo). Also, a few days ago Sundance rotated Summercamp! and Christmas on Mars, but it’s the Lips’ new performances on TV that have mostly made the lead-up to Embryonic so exciting: “Convinced of the Hex” on September 16’s Colbert Report and the live debut of “Watching the Planets” on The Tonight Show two nights ago (yep, a live debut on network TV… hopefully they’ll continue to play new songs with every forthcoming TV appearance; there’s currently a rumor they’ll be on Yo Gabba Gabba). Similarly, The Flaming Lips became the first performers to debut an album on ColbertNation.com by streaming Embryonic after their Wednesday, September 16 appearance until Monday, September 21. Then, from Oct 6 through its release this week, NPR streamed the album.
The Secret Show today isn’t just another gig or album release promo obligation, it’s the culmination of everything discussed above, from Switzerland to Conan. The Lips have used the status and connections they’ve earned since The Soft Bulletin and an understanding (as well as anyone can) of how the music industry and the internet currently works to develop throughout 2009 not just a sound or a modified aesthetic, but a sense of something “happening”…a thrill for enthusiasts of daring rock n’ roll. It’s not merely a matter of new songs, but that once again “blaring like a trumpet” their “potential has arrived” and these same phrases the “Happy Anniversary Soft Bulletin” blog used (from the lyrics of that album) to describe the larger significance of ten years ago apply today… but this time they have a sizeable fan-base to participate and observe as it unfolds. If the preceding months can be seen as a metaphoric pregnancy (building from the first burst of excitement that came with the winter 2009 news, the onset of waiting, anticipating as tentative release dates got changed, checking out song titles online and the digital E.P. Songs from the Future Album Embryonic, attending concerts, watching clips online, listening to “See the Leaves” from the Pitchfork leak, tuning into freak-outs on late night TV, getting a preview from web streams, seeing the “I Can Be a Frog” music video on September 22 and behind the scenes filming of “Watching the Planets” the following day)… then today is the birth. It is fitting that the secret show is broadcast live on ustream and that all can share the “nativity.”
The “happening” is documented by sales stats (if Embryonic sells in all retailers as the charts on Amazon.com and iTunes indicate it has the past two days, it could be the Lips’ first top ten album) and testified by music critics. Its mostly rave reviews are cementing it as the Lips’ first instant classic universally acknowledged by dedicated fans, casual consumers and professional critics (Tiny Mix Tapes: “It’s tempting to call the album a “classic”- to place it in a genealogy with like-mindedly ambitious double albums like The Beatles, Exile on Main Street, or Physical Graffiti,” The New Music Express: “a brilliantly unhinged masterpiece”). Even infamously judgmental Pitchfork deemed it one of the highest rated albums of the year (and honored it with arguably the most thoughtful review they’ve ever posted on The Flaming Lips). Seemingly every reviewer is overwhelmed (Under the Radar: “18 tracks and well over an hour running time” (Fall 2009, p.58); Entertainment Weekly: “Equal parts overwhelming and intoxicating;” Paste: “wonderfully weird parade of sonic delights;” Tiny Mix Tapes: “impossible to ignore: an ambitious double album in an age where the single is making a comeback”), including those that criticize it for being overwhelming (the latest Guardian review: “you wonder if his passion and garrulousness might not have gone too far;” an earlier Guardian review: “Fragmented, loose, indulgent;” Drowned in Sound: “boils down to… your tolerance for lengthy psyche records”).
This “happening” “now” -The Flaming Lips being born again with a flock of freaks cheering them, and themselves, on- can’t be boiled down to an overwhelming record or its sales and reviews: it’s the collective enthusiasm of fans, the contagiousness of excitement and the pure inspiration of uninhibited rock n’ roll yearning for a higher high and a freer free. If internet dialogue is any gauge (it’s been one of the top 2009 albums on Rate Your Music since the Colbert stream three weeks before its official release and glowing fan reviews are scattered across the internet on message boards, comment dialogue and blogs), fans are overwhelmingly thrilled the Lips made an album so audacious, so darkly optimistic, so full of blood and impulses, “so embryonic it’s all right”. It’s not for cozy folks who prefer to pretend we come from a stalk. It has the intensity of a real labor – the nausea, the screaming, the metaphorical mess of fluids and smells… but also the beauty of birth, its preceding pregnancy, subsequent “life gushing all around,” and even the wonder in the underling fear that “brain dead is how it always ends.”
On Conan Tuesday night, guest Ice-T distinguished his Twitter page from those of other celebrities by claiming he doesn’t want more subscribers, but less: a tight bunch of hardcore followers. Shortly thereafter, the Lips seemed as if they were unintentionally actualizing in song and performance the notion Ice-T had just talked about as they came on, turned on and went-off on “Watching the Planets,” as if possessed. The Flaming Lips weren’t just talking, even if Wayne does do a lot of that elsewhere, but coming to their birth in the “now” in a way more artistically hardcore and psyche explorationally intense than Mr. Cop Killer turned Law and Order will ever manage. There’s no braggadocio or hard-hitting posturing on their part, not even a sense of “experimental” elitism. Still, Embryonic is eccentrically risky even if there’s no more reason to assume they are purposely trying to scare away casual fans then there is cause to think those only on the ride for “Fight Test” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” will stay on. On the other hand, the disturbed undercurrent of Embryonic may bring back all the fans that lost interest as The Lips morphed into a furry circus preoccupied with making a Christmas movie on mars. Take this guy for example, or the numerous reviews (many from sources that were luke warm towards all Lips’ projects since 2002) echoing fan chat in praise of Embryonic’s edginess (in a 4 of 4 star review, The Phoenix pinned it as “accessible music pushed to the very edge of accessibility,” The Onion A.V. Club, in an “A-“ review, described it as “a band discovering that the far edge of an idea is often more compelling than its core,” All Music Guide: “the least polite the Flaming Lips have been in nearly two decades, mixing in-the-red drums, blobby, dubby bass, squelchy wah-wah guitars, and sparkling keyboards,” Launch.Yahoo: “seriously heavy sh*t, to borrow a ’60s phrase. Not just sonically, although guitars and drums are often monstrously amped up, but in theme”).
They’ve created an album and an aura to the magnitude of their own standards: immersing themselves in a million possibilities and standing up to say “yes-yes-yes,” transforming well-worn ideas (“been born before”) into unconventionally accessible new life (“so embryonic it’s alright”) with an intensity of sonic explorations that dig deeper than one’s ears to what’s between them and an artistic emotional- I.Q. as soft as the softest bullet ever shot and heavier than you thought it was already as heavy as could be. Ever since The Soft Bulletin asserted “the limits now were none,” if not before, these have been the only terms by which the Lips fail or succeed. If Embryonic is a “return to form,” as quite a few are deeming it, it’s only because they’ve resisted any form that limited them. The Flaming Lips are right here, right now…as they have been for the last quarter century.
“We think we know just who we are but sometimes I think we’ve gone too far” -“Right Now,” Telepathic Surgery, 1989
“If I’m talking to you, I’m talking to you. I’m just right here with you…you have to remember, we’re here right now.” -Wayne Coyne in the course of explaining to ABC News why he doesn’t use e-mail, posted online October 11, 2009 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2h7ldehouY
Psych Explorations of the Future Heart, an interactive, multi-media publication and detailed discussion about life, rock n’ roll, pop culture and The Flaming Lips, by and for fans, coming soon.