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Flaming Lips latest release offers many rhythms, few hooks

Published 5:02pm Saturday, April 6, 2013

I must confess that my expectations of the Flaming Lips’ latest album could not have been more wrong.

Somehow, I thought — even feared — the kings of modern psychedelia would sway toward pop, indie or something more radio-friendly. Maybe it was their poppy tune playing on a Super Bowl commercial — or the fact the group appeared in a Super Bowl ad, period. Maybe it was that most bands eventually bow to the pressure to produce a hit.

Boy was I wrong.

The Flaming Lips’ 13th studio album, “The Terror,” is a full-court press of psychedelic rhythms, droning loops and almost no melodies. This is not a radio friendly album.

When I listened to it for first time with a friend, his first reaction was, “Flaming Lips fans are not going to like this.” That I’m not so sure about, as the Flaming Lips have an avid core of devoted fans. That said, “The Terror” is not going to convert many doubters to fans.

In general, “The Terror” is a dense listen. There’s no rousing choruses. No grand climaxes. No catchy choruses. At first listen, it’s easy to pass off the album as overly experimental and drowning in sound.

The album opens with the loop-laced “Look … The Sun Is Rising,” which is perhaps the closest thing to a traditional song structure on the album. The song, like the album, produces all the atmospheric sounds and qualities one would expect from a Flaming Lips album, with Wayne Coyne’s.

Each song builds slowly, but never really reaches a grand climax. “Be Free, A Way” peaks modestly with synthesizers over Coyne’s voice, which is often soft or distorted.

The music requires patience during the many quiet moments where the atmospheric sounds dominate, but the driving beats are fascinating when there’s a payoff. The best example of this is the title track “The Terror,” where Coyne’s voice haunts quietly in the background before the clanging drums build to bellowing electronic bells.

“The Terror” and other tracks border on an almost industrial rock sound at times.

On many tracks, it feels like the listener’s patience with the sea of sounds doesn’t produce an adequate payoff. At times, the music grows to an unforgiving menace, and it plays like a dog continually flashing its teeth. But, when you swim through the current of sound long enough, the waves begin to turn you.

Over time, the method behind the madness takes shape. Coyne described the album’s concept in a press release by saying, “The Terror is, we know now, that even without love, life goes on… we just go on… there is no mercy killing.”

Personally, I’ve always had a lukewarm attraction to the Flaming Lips. At times, they’re brilliant, like on almost all of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.” But it seems just as often they fall short of wowing the casual listener, which makes me wonder if their avid fan following balloons beyond their production.

Even though there’s little to hook listeners on “The Terror,” the album has a methodical rhythm to it that’s hard to ignore.

OK, so maybe my Flaming Lips armor is slowly peeling away one psychedelic riff at a time, but few bands can produce an album so devoid of musical hooks that still manages to attract the ear.

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