Before I get to the "review" part of my look at the new Flaming Lips album Oczy Mlody (pronounced "ox-see mel-oh-dee", apparently it is Polish for "eyes of the young"), I have to bring up a little consideration which some may have overlooked. I mean... you are reading this probably a month after a lot of reviews have already run (I'm on a longer lead time) but I've yet to see anyone discuss a certain point relative to the so-called "return to form" that some are excited about with the release of this new album.
Yeah, The Flaming Lips have gone on a deep trip of a journey for the past number of years with so many releases created with their "Heady Fwends" and some wonderful explorations into the darker sides of their musical moons (ie. The Terror, Embryonic)... And then there was that 24-hour song (7 Skies H3) that got distilled into a really sweet single-disc listening experience... And then there are their fun excursions with Miley Cyrus (Yeah ... "Fun!" I do like what they've been doing with Miley, kids...) as her backing band the Dead Petz.
So the new album, Oczy Mlody, is really lovely and all. But I wasn't entirely surprised at the overall sound of it as many seem to be.
You see, there was this generally ignored release the band put out in late 2013 for Record Store Day called Peace Sword which I reviewed here on Audiophilereview.com One song on it was written for use in the film Enders Game and the rest of the album was material that got rejected. That doesn't make it bad. In fact, I really loved the Peace Sword EP. At six songs, its more of a mini-album... half an album. And you know what? Most of the material here sounds like it could have ended up on Oczy Mlody, if given a different production treatment.
If you really look at The Flaming Lips catalog album-by-album, there is a strong sense of continuity there even when they were consciously trying to change up their game. Go back to the important transitional album Embryonic and even The Terror you'll find link points between a past, present and future the band has been traversing. "Be Free, A Way" and "Try To Explain" from the latter could have easily fit in on Oczy Mlody with its haunting vocals, sequenced pulsating backgrounds and synthesizer flourishes.
So, where Peace Sword recalled a certain aesthetic, somewhat reflecting on classic albums like At War With The Mystics, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots and The Soft Bulletin (both in song writing flavor and the core guitar-bass-drums rock band format of the records), Oczy Mlody tackles similar material with a more current, trip hop-infused take on the space music aesthetic. The epic-feeling "Is The Black At The End Good?" from Peace Sword could be something of an almost template for "The Castle" on Oczy Mlody ...
The big synthesizer sounds of the new album were already coming back into the forefront on Peace Sword tracks like "Think Like A Machine, Not A Boy," another mini epic that could have easily been mixed differently into the Oczy mold... Compositionally, the cinematic-like transitions and interludes that resurfaced on Peace Sword ("Assassin Beatle / The Dream Is Ending") appear in different form on Oczy Mlody on tracks like "Sunrise (Eyes of the Young)" and "Listening to Frogs With Demon Eyes."
Heck, even the cover art on Peace Sword kind of pre-echoed the stylistic look and feel of the new album.
So, that said, you are probably wondering what to expect from The Flaming Lips on Oczy Mlody. Well, I hate to be cliche 'n all but it is a "modern" sounding record replete with at least one track that uses Auto Tune on the vocals as a production flavor. The album is rich with subtle melodies that grow on you amidst big sequenced drum sounds and synthesized string sections. Where Peace Sword genuinely "rocks" at times in a traditional four-piece rock band sense, Oczy Mlody is more about booty-shaking grooves that can challenge your speakers' bottom end -- to that point, it is a little more like the way Yoshimi was produced.
That said, even with all the 21st century production flourishes, Oczy Mlody is a fine sounding album. There is still a sense of dynamic range on this album, a nice balance of highs, mids and lows which blossom even with the glitchy, itchy, scratchy sound design of the recording.... Fidelity wise, it sounds pretty great for a modern, digitally driven record. Wayne Coyne's vocals are very clear in the mix and there are nice harmonies and such, the big difference between the more experimental albums of recent vintage and the "hit" albums from back in the day (again, The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi.... and At War With The Mystics).
I opted for the two LP version of Oczy Mlody (purchased from the band's website with a bonus single featuring a cover of David Bowie's Space Oddity!). The standard weight colored vinyl pressings are dead quiet and perfectly centered. The included MP3 download sounds fine in the car -- oddly enough, a mood-swing-filled recording like this works very well in the car when navigating city traffic and seeking some escape from the madness of the day.
Perhaps my only nit picks are that as a somewhat pricey two-LP set in this format, the album falls a little short time wise. With just three songs per side, Oczy Mlody clocks in at under 60 minutes, so it feels a little light to be on a two-disc set. There is a lot of dead wax on each side. It might have been cooler to put more songs per side over three album sides and use the fourth for etching or some other sort of cool artwork or instrumental outtakes. Alternately, it would have been nice to have the two-LP version spin at 45 RPM for us audio geeks.
But those are little nits... a bigger problem which a friend brought to my attention recently is that for the people who don't want the two disc version -- there IS a single disc black vinyl version but it only has 11 songs on it! The 12th is available as part of the free download -- that is a kind of weak solution, kids.
They could have included the extra song on a packed in EP, perhaps.
There are many different possible solutions. But... hey... they didn't ask me what to do, now did they? So it is what it is, kids...
For now, you'll just have to decide what is most important to you as a listener and fan of The Flaming Lips. Me, I'm really quite happy Oczy Mlody both as a listening experience via the fun two LP vinyl package. Its really beautiful to look at as it is to listen to.
And its a new Flaming Lips album. And that alone is a great thing worth celebrating.
Can't wait to see how this new music from Oczy Mlody fleshes out when they bring it to the live stage on tour later this year.
See you at the shows!