Tragedy and Horror: Less-Than-Joyful Sounds from The Flaming Lips on 2013’s The Terror

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In high school, I started listening to a lot of alternative music in a misguided (and woefully unsuccessful) attempt to trick my peers into thinking I was cool. Of all the stuff I bumped in my portable CD player, the Flaming Lips turned out to be one of the few groups that I genuinely enjoyed. Their sound was undeniably weird, but the songs made a happy sort of sense.

Before I’d discovered the need for desperate posturing, my favorite bands had been that of the Beach Boys and Hanson variety, so in retrospect it was  a logical progression to a similarly gleeful—if a good deal more thoughtful and disoriented—sound.

That said, “gleeful” certainly isn’t a word I’d connect to the Flaming Lips’ newest album, the Terror. The eerie non-melodies that leak from the Terror are terribly unsettling; sort of a soundtrack to a haunted house that aims to stir up discomfort more from what isn’t there than what is.

To say it is a far cry from the triumphant Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots would be an understatement. Even 2009’s Embryonic supplied enough substance to have a discernable tone—not happy, either, but at least that was music made for humans. I’m not convinced that is the case for the Terror.

The song Turning Violent, in particular, sounds like some freaky, trudging ballad composed for the evil, rainforest-crunching machines that from Fern Gulley. This music is the opposite of the Tallest Man on Earth.

This is not your happy place album. These are sounds to supplement your fear. The good news is that listening to the Flaming Lips will still make you cool. But it might also make people worry about you.

That said, when Wayne Coyne and the boys set out to do something weird, they’re not going to half ass it, and this album is like a sad nightmare that won’t come un-stuck from your brain.

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