The Flaming Lips - Embryonic
(Warner Bros.)

This weeks ESSENTIAL pick is probably the most recent release that any of us have deemed “essential”, 2009's Embryonic by The Flaming Lips. This is both a testament to the release itself but also a statement about the band, as they have continued to be relevant well into their 3rd decade.
Leading up to the release of Embryonic, The Flaming Lips had gone through many shapes and sizes. So much so that when comparing one of their albums to another, it could almost seem as if it were a totally different band. In 2006 they released their 11th studio album, At War With The Mystics, and by this time they had not only earned the reputation of one of Rocks’ most daring and unpredictable bands, but also as one of the best live acts around. This reputation emerged due largely to their stage antics more than their music. They’ve employed thousands of balloons, confetti cannons, dancing aliens, audience lasers and a lead singer who would walk atop the crowd in a plastic bubble. Their psychedelic shtick had finally overcome the true substance of the band. At War With The Mystics seemed to be a reflection of a band that was simply having fun alongside their audience and it was certainly hard to leave a Flaming Lips show without feeling completely elated and re-energized. You felt like you just attended the greatest party on earth. But for those of us who had been attracted to this band because of their uncompromising vision and inherent sense of exploration, it seemed that they may have slipped into complacency. Would The Flaming Lips turn into the next Grateful Dead? Has the music taken the back seat to the spectacle of the live show? It honestly felt this way at the time, but not for long.
When news started spreading that a new Flaming Lips album was in the works, many wondered what to expect. Well in October of 2009, Embryonic was released and by the end of track one, the mission statement was explicitly clear – it is time to start over. Both thematically and sonically, this album is defiant in every sense. It seemingly rejected the wave of comfort ability the band had been riding on over the last few years. The band had set up shop in multi instrumentalist Steven Drozd's abandoned house with a sparse amount of equipment and for months simply tried any and all ideas. What started to happen was something that they were not used to: a feeling of uncertainty. As songs were piling up they felt themselves inexplicably attracted to the stranger, harsher pieces of music over the somewhat trademarked “Flaming Lips Sound” of other pieces. This attraction lead them to trash anything that resembled the Flaming Lips in favor of a new shape but more importantly, something true to themselves and completely fearless. It didn't matter if a song was crudely recorded on an iphone in a haphazard set up. What mattered was the performance and the emotions felt within it. Embryonic contains a sense of purpose and urgency that is rarely found in youthful bands let alone a band entering into their third decade. Their influences were leaning harder on krautrock than their cosmic balladeering, neo-Pet Sounds approach of the previous few years. Embryonic brought them back to the forefront of experimental music and eased the fear that many of us shared leading up to its release. The Flaming Lips were not over, they were re-born. They had finally tapped back into their nature that led so many of us to revere them as one of the most important bands still going. Since Embryonic, they have gone on to record some of their most ambitious work ever while keeping the public at large guessing about what the band will sound like from record to record. But none of that would have been possible without the watershed moment that is Embryonic. (Adam)
Check out a track here