It took some time but I finally got my pre-ordered deluxe edition of The Flaming Lips’ new masterpiece American Head in the mail (complete with spiffy autographed art print). And.. I’m not disappointed. Fortunately for you, Dear Readers, I was accidentally sent a black vinyl version first and then (after writing to their merch folks) received the nifty colored vinyl version (which is part of what I paid extra for to support the band).
Both versions of American Head sound excellent on standard weight yet quiet vinyl, a two-disc set. They are almost identical which makes some sense given they seem to share the same pressing master (one side of one of the colored discs is a wee bit off center but other than that its fine).
I noticed a curious difference between the two different vinyl colored discs: transparent teal and opaque purple (it was supposed to be pink, apparently). There was a slight variance in the sound between the two versions, the purple opaque being closer in sound to the black vinyl and the teal sounding a bit brighter. This is not really a big deal of course — its genuine hair-splitting — but audiophiles may find this interesting, especially those who feel that colored vinyl always will sound worse than its black counterpart. I think there are certain types of colored vinyl that can indeed sound as good as black vinyl and this point underscores that notion. Food for thought.
Fans of The Flaming Lips won’t be surprised about this but some audiophiles might find American Head to be a good Stereo separation demo disc. There are some really fun things going on here including lots of left-right tom-tom activity and special effects. For example, on the opening track “Will You Return / When You Come Down,” listen for the shimmer across the sound stage during the line near the start of the song:“Now all your friends are dead… And their ghosts, floating around your bed…” When lead singer Wayne Coyne sings the word “ghosts,” the final “ssss” seems to sizzle back and forth between the speakers, like a ghost floating around the room. It is a very cool touch and just one of many tasty production flourishes throughout the album.
So many of the songs here are just epic. Accordingly, a series of mesmerizing videos have been released in tandem with it.
For example, the video for the opening track “Will You Return / When You Come Down” is a stunner (click here) as it looks to have been shot during Covid allowing the band to appear together safely separated by plastic screens. Its a neat concept underscoring that sort of alone-together sensibility and we get to see how the band contributes its parts to the sound (such as opening vocals which I might have previously thought was Wayne singing but really is multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Steven Drozd).
“Flowers of Neptune 6” is another wonder as singer Wayne Coyne is seen walking through burning (I’m guessing, corn) fields, draped in an American flag while in his now-trademark giant Hamster ball (which he’s used to crowed surf at shows for decades now). First released in May 2020, this video feels quite poignant given our nation’s state of affairs. A powerful image (click here to view it).
If you aren’t into vinyl or prefer streaming the next best option for listening to The Flaming Lips’ American Head album is on services like Tidal and Qobuz. The album is streaming on both in 96 kHz, 24-bit high resolution and they sound pretty terrific with a very nice sense of Stereo separation.
I particularly like how the tom-toms are delivered in these digital streams — the way they were recorded on the opening track “Will You Return/When You Come Down,” sounds very Ringo-esque which is totally on the mark for this song. That vibe applies to several of the other tunes on American Head, many of which have some of that epic feel ala “Hey Jude” and “Let It Be.” If you have subscriptions, click here to listen on Tidal and here for Qobuz.
American Head is one of my favorite albums of 2020, for sure. I hope you’ll make some time to listen to it start to finish. It is heavy, but beautiful.