Embryonic: Flaming Lips' Lo Fi / Hi Fi Experiment Shines on LP

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When I was pre-ordering the new Flaming Lips album The Terror (out mid April), I noticed a sale on at the band's website for their last official studio album (as a group, collaborations aside) on colored vinyl LP and decided to spring for it while I was at it. Since I already owned the deluxe edition CD+DVD of Embryonic they put out at the time of release, I thought it might be interesting to compare and contrast the releases. 

Embryonic was a somewhat controversial release in that the band -- not wanting to repeat themselves after a spectacular trifecta run of glistening, gorgeously produced pop-prog instant classic albums (The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots and At War With the Mystics) -- decided to record basic tracks live in their warehouse-like rehearsal studio. The resultant recording is a fascinating -- if challenging -- listen that recalls no less than the first few Pink Floyd albums, early Robert Wyatt-era Soft Machine, Gong, and several bands from the period which recorded mostly live takes in the studio and then sweetened and overdubbed as necessary. Where Yoshimi and At War With The Mystics scale the dark side of the moon, Embryonic embraces the DIY aesthetic of a Guided By Voices album.

The deluxe edition of Embryonic includes the album spread across two CDs and a DVD containing a high resolution 96 kHz / 24-bit LPCM version of the album.

The two LP set comes with the whole album on a single CD.  Go figure.

The DVD and the LP sound really good (and about the same, all things considered) yet the listening experience is different in a curious but significant manner. While the DVD sounds about as good as can be expected from this challenging material, with a somewhat brighter high end, I found the LP a more engaging listen. Why? Because I had to get up and flip the album every 20 minutes or so -- each side plays as an entity unto itself.  So it became a more rewarding listening experience -- I felt like I'd heard four new Flaming Lips albums over the course of the set vs. just getting one continuous rambling blur of sound on the DVD. The LP gave my mind a chance to rest and consider what I'd just heard. 

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If you are a Flaming Lips fan, but haven't picked up Embryonic yet, I would recommend it as there are some very cool tunes there. I particularly like "The Ego's Last Stand," "Worm Mountain" and "Watching The Planets." This music stretches back to their sound in the 1990s, recapturing some of their early freak flag flying punks-on-acid flavor, yet with a decidedly 21st century twist. 

Its going to be interesting to see where The Flaming Lips go after The Terror comes out in April. Embryonic definitely pointed them in a new direction and I'm on board for the ride. Perhaps you'll come along too...

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Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com.  He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written. www.smotroff.com
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