Although The Flaming Lips have been kicking up dust long before their commercial debut with 1993′s Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, their sound didn’t fill their song-writing shoes until 1999′s The Soft Bulletin. Since then, they’ve released a string of critically acclaimed albums, EPs, and digital releases.
Following their departure from Warner Bros. in January of 2012, The Flaming Lips vowed to deliver different music in a different manner than ever before. This was quickly found to be an understatement when songs come packaged in gummy-brains and a song stretched to 24 hours in length.
Possibly the most far out move to be credited to The Flaming Lips is an album whose liner notes feature both the names “Yoko Ono” and “Ke$ha.” Heady Fwends is a collection of thirteen tracks written over the course of the latter half of 2011 and early 2012 with various musicians from a diverse range of musical backgrounds, such as Bon Iver, Neon Indian, Lightning Bolt, Prefuse 73, Eryka Badu, Coldplay’s Chris Martin and Yoko Ono. Wearing a heavy coat of satire, the album is a dense piece of work at heart offering a bevy of differing sounds and songs from a random assortment of musical talent.
Heady Fwends inserts the listener into a strange space from the get go, opening with the ominous (or humorous?) “2012 [You Must Be Upgraded].” The electro-punk vehicle has Ke$ha’s vocals at the wheel and rides on themes of a drug-filled apocalypse. A mellotron-laiden bridge of swelling chords building towards a crescendo over Ke$ha’s vocals. The crescendo is cut short by the abrupt change back into the track’s original sloppy yet effective hook.
“Ashes in the Air” features vocal work by Bon Iver - but don’t let that fool you into believing the song sounds like Bon Iver. Following the drummer-boy beat intro, the chord progression lets loose bringing with it a very heavy post-Dark Side of The Moon Pink Floyd vibe. The immature simplicity of the lyrics add satirical detail to the over-the-top pseudo ballad giving the song a strong sense of dry humor.
“Helping the Retarded Know God” juxtaposes a plausibly offensive title with the gorgeous musicianship of the Lips with help from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. The 7-minute epic drips with analog synth work drapped across luscious soundscapes that transform and bend shape until the outro comes about, ending the song with a choral “I am trying to know you”—giving insight to the song’s title over distorted samples of laughter.
Beatmaker Prefuse 73 is featured on “Superman Made Me Want To Pee” in the most obvious of musical choices: Old school progressive rock with emphasis on classic rock vocal harmonies. Another left-field comes in the middle of the song as is dissolves into a spacious swell of chords and sounds. The song is more of an experiment in texture rather than a verse-chorus-verse-chorus forray, emphasizing the album’s lean on atmosphere, and the tone of the song.
An early standout is “Children of the Moon.” Tame Impala is featured in this slow and slushy psychedelic guitar track that plays with panning and mix throughout a 5 minute space ride. Messy guitars and glittering synthesizers put book-ends on the air provided by sparse drums and quiet acoustic guitar. The abrupt chord stabs of the over-driven guitar add a welcomed sense of dirt to the overtly clean-cut… cut.
The Flaming Lips, along with the help of Jim James (My Morning Jacket) list things they would consider out of character in “That ain’t my trip.” A repeated movement extends through 3 in a half minutes where large vocals are amped up by larger drums. Lyrics like “You always want to shave my balls, That ain’t my trip” add to the list of the album’s latent joking mannerisms.
“You, Man? Human???” marries two obscure music legends when Nick Cave joins Flaming Lips to create a pseudo serious take on beatnik poetry. Fuzzed out angsty guitar work and falsetto backing vocals fill out the mix. Cave’s loose and dry delivery carries more of the album’s facetious undertones and lends an amusing vibe to the song that gives it a playability past the novelty of Cave and Coyne together.
“I’m working at NASA on Acid” is an extended acoustic epic backed by guitar/drum combo Lightning Bolt that takes a sharp left turn three minutes into the song turning into a noisy crescendo that grows and grows. When the weight of the cacophony seems to much for the song to bear, the arrangement dissipates into distorted tape samples only to return to the delicate chords of the acoustic guitar work.
Yoko Ono is the guest on “Do It!” – A track where a quirky up-front beat laces around jaggy guitar hits and a rolling bass. Ono declares “Do It” over and over again with various amount of post-processing to extenuate the strange nature of the song. The loopy phrasing and repetitive beat add a nice sense of drone to the album that can’t seem to sit still for too long.
Another standout appears with the beat driven “Is David Bowie Dying.” Neon Indian rhythmic sensibilities work in tandem with the Lips ability to build a wall of sound. Cut up glitches occupy the empty space between the large chorus and their rewarding post-choruses. A noisy guitar solo helps growing vocals close the song.
The apex of the album happens next as neo soul star Erykah Badu helps the Lips cover “The First Time I saw Your Face,” an endearing song made famous by Roberta Flack in 1972. The slow-mo 10 minute odyssey is the least tongue in cheek moment of the album, putting a heavy emphasis on the extended duration and Badu’s performance.
Silly sounds return on “Girl, You’re So Weird” (featuring New Fumes), which is, well, kinda weird. Exaggerated synth work over juvenile lyricism and a driving melody. The song abruptly explodes in a machine beat and then for no apparent returns back to broken pop.
The album closes on a final humorous note with “Tasered and Maced.” Ghostland Observatory‘s Aaron Behrens tells the story of being tasered and maced by police over a minimal electronic instrumental. The sample of Behrens’s telling is cut and chopped adding superfluous decoration, emphasizing the Lips lack of fear in obeying pop, off-pop, or indie pop rules of composition.
The Flaming Lips release Heady Fwends today and embark on a record breaking 24-hour tour starting tomorrow.