Review: ‘Oczy Mlody’ by The Flaming Lips

Pack your bags we are going on a journey….

What do you see here?

Psychedelic noise pioneers The Flaming Lips have never been a band you could comfortably class as predictable. After critical acclaim for ‘The Soft Bulletin’ in 1999 they released their two most commercial albums with ‘Yoshimi Vs The Pink Robots’ and ‘At War With The Mystics.’ Mystics in particular seemed destined for sing alongs at festivals and tracks ready and primed to be used in adverts for beer (which it was with ‘It Overtakes Me’). So what do they do then? Instead of carrying on and serving a whole new legion of fans, they release two albums of experimental noise prog rock that can barely be classed as such with ‘Embryonic’ and ‘The Terror.’ They then spend two years or so releasing albums for record store day in jelly skulls, collaborating on covering classic albums by Pink Floyd and The Beatles and frontman Wayne Coyne becomes best friends with Miley Cyrus, somehow the most bizarre and yet commercial thing he has ever done.

Rumblings were that ‘Oczy Mlody’ would be a return to somewhat commercial status with Coyne comparing the sound to Syd Barrett meeting A$AP Rocky in interviews last year. So it’s something of a relief and a surprise to say that the new record sits somewhere comfortably between the commercial sound and the experimentation of recent years. In fact the closest comparison I could make with their previous work would be The Soft Bulletin, an album that went mainstream but was a work that took you on a journey filled with surprises that could never be classed as ‘mainstream.’ Listening to Oczy Mlody you do wonder if Coyne and co had just as bad a year in 2016 as everyone else, the album touches on familiar themes such as death, love and just plain old psychedelic freakiness but filled with self reflection, sadness and finally hope. It’s like The Soft Bulletin mixed with the overall gentleness of the songs on Yoshimi and yet a rewarding experience that doesn’t feel like a rehash.

The Lips have always been good at painting a narrative with their soundscapes and Oczy Mlody echoes The Soft Bulletin in the way that tracks start one way and then conclude in a polar opposite direction, funky beats giving way to doom, soaring vocals giving way to heavy bass and so on. This is especially apparent and enjoyable on tracks like ‘How??’ ‘Sunrise (Eyes of the Young)’ ‘Nigdy Nie (Never No)’ and ‘Do Glowy’ with agonising lyrics about identity, love, heartbreak and death. In a more epic fashion we get tracks like ‘There should be unicorns’ with it’s menacing start and mumbled vocals yearning for safety in magic and then a faster tempo as the imagery gets more bizarre with what sounds like James Earl Jones talking over the sounds and warning that unicorns shit everywhere, dissing police brutality and mourning the end of the world. ‘Galaxy I Sink’ starts off like something off Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ seeing the universe through someone else’s eyes almost obsessively and sinking into that obsession. ‘One Night While Hunting For Faeries and Witches and Wizards to Kill’ could well be a poster track for the entire album. The lyrics conjuring images of haunted forests and dark trees before becoming a lament for the destruction of the magical in a cruel world. The tracks ‘Listening to the Frogs with Demon Eyes’ ‘The Castle’ and ‘Almost Home (Blisko Domu)’ continue to mess with expectation musically whilst revealing a certain weariness with the world and hanging on to hope. ‘The Castle’ in particular is like the flipside of ‘Do You Realize?’ and is possibly the saddest track the Lips have ever produced. The album ends on a hopeful and uplifting note with ‘We a Famly’ with Miley Cyrus making an appearance and helping to reassure us that everything is going to be alright in what is probably going to be the best known track from the album overall.

Three listens in and i’m still absorbing this record, unsure if my interpretation or impressions are correct and hearing tracks multiple times and getting something completely different. Oczy Mlody is that kind of album, it demands multiple listens, to be contemplated alone with headphones in a cold winter so you can let it take you on it’s unique journey. It’s an album you can comfortably and happily live in until spring comes.

Based on this evidence, let’s hope that The Flaming Lips continue to defy expectation and remain unpredictable, the world is a better place for it.