The Flaming Lips have always fancied themselves the psychedelic-rock heirs to Pink Floyd’s saucerfuls of secrets and the Beatles’ kaleidoscope eyes; and they’ve spent the last three decades summoning freaky visions and setting them to outsized orchestral-rock jams. Their latest outing, a schlocky rock opera dubbed Oczy Mlody, is decidedly more stripped back and puts a fresh gleam on the Lips’ usual pucker.
The album features a very loose story about the fictional, titular drug that makes people sleep for three months and dream of having sex on unicorns, but the Lips play it so understatedly that it’s easier to get lost in their cold, minimalistic electronic soundscapes. Frontman Wayne Coyne has said he drew inspiration from both Syd Barrett and A$AP Rocky for the music, though there’s a little Neil Young in the vocals and Goldfrapp in the arrangements – its full depth is just not readily apparent from the start.
Aside from a lousy plot, Oczy Mlody‘s only other failing is it’s a slow build. The first half is sparse, uninviting and even a little drab – even their rewrite of Miley Cyrus’ “The Floyd Song (Sunrise),” which shows promise of the grand arrangements to come, sounds a little flat. But things change toward the end of “Galaxy I Sink”: The group breaks the monotony with spaghetti Western guitar and cinematic strings, and they spend they next few songs exploring hypnotic drumming, fuzzy synths and deep textures. The sleepy single “The Castle” is downright serene, with Beach Boys-y vocal harmonies, hip-hop drums and plinky guitar, and it closes with the resplendent closer “We a Famly,” which features Cyrus singing an uplifting melody about “Jesus and the spaceships comin’ down.” The album is a bitter pill at first but it pays off to tune in and turn on.