Oczy Mlody serves as an accomplished distillation of the Flaming Lips diverse catalog.
They’re at it again. Psychedelic Statesmen, The Flaming Lips, have just released their latest album, Oczy Mlody. A hard band to review, their catalogue is immeasurably nuanced and accomplished. Starting as a punk grunge band, they’ve gone from ‘90s garage psychedelic with Clouds Taste Metallic, experimented with a more adult and tempered sound with Zaireeka and the Soft Bulletin, got over on the charts and had a string of commercially successful releases with At War with the Mystics, dabbled with orchestral scores and soundtracks, and have compressed the accumulation of their sonic odyssey into twelve tracks that prove Wayne Coyne is far from resting on laurels so many albums later.
Opening with the title track, Oczy Mlody threatens to quickly descend into that familiar ephemeral, but ultimately forgettable, ambient soundscape that plague other great bands such as Radiohead. Piloting the track like Sully over the Hudson, Coyne puts enough meat on the track to pull up before it crashes, allowing for a perfect landing that transitions to “How??”. Originally featured on the Ender’s Game soundtrack, the track has much more context on the full album.
“There Should be Unicorns” injects the levity that first brought the Flaming Lips to table, a fun looseness that has been missing in their more recent atmospheric releases like 2013’s The Terror and its follow-up 7 Skies H3. It is an optimistic wish list for a world that could benefit from Coyne’s daring positivity.
Coyne laments on the track, “There should be unicorns; the ones with the purple eyes not the green eyes. Whatever they give them, they shit everywhere. And it would be great if the moon was almost down, like in a very red-orange state. Let’s leave it like that for at least three hours just over the horizon. And if the police show up we will give them so much money that they can retire from their shitty violent jobs and live the greatest life they ever lived. And we will be high and the love generator will be turned up to its maximum. And we’ll get higher when at last, the sun, comes up in the morning and we will collapse under the weight of the ancient earth and it will be inside me and it will be inside you and it will be the end of the world and the beginning of a new love.”
The instrumental tracks like “Nigdy Nie (Never No)” do not plod aimless through a fog of effects. Still experimental and interpretive, the tracks never overstay their welcome or distract from the more commercial offerings on Oczy Mlody. Much of this careful balance can be traced back their ambitious 1999 release, The Soft Bulletin, which saw the band redefine the limits of what they could accomplish in the studio. While none of the tracks on Oczy Mlody scream of uncharted territory, that is not due to playing it safe. It comes from a band that have a drawer full of sharpened knives. From cleavers to scalpels, the Flaming Lips can either cut with blunt force or with delicate precision. Never straying into careless or masturbatory noodling (although coming close on “Almost Home (Blisko Domu)”), the instrumentals and extended openings like on “One Night While Hunting for Faeries and Witches and Wizards to Kill” are as spacey as they are catchy.
The album lacks a definitive commercially-accessible radio anthem or a stand out track, this is not said in sleight but in admiration. Oczy Mlody is a disciplined and comprehensive album that offers a consistent thematic tone throughout. It is a transformative beginning-to-end experience that is often lacking in an increasingly singles orientated playlist culture.
Closing the album with “We a Family” offers a cumulative achievement, as if the eleven preceding tracks could have only ever led here. The closing track, while owning to their own signature sound, has an unmistakable Sgt. Pepper’s quality as a cherubic chorus continuing the refrain “we a family” into a warm, and ultimately satisfying, fade out.