Legendary Oklahoma City band The Flaming Lips have carved out a long and successful career by embracing freakdom. And in the past few years they’ve challenged the marketability of their own weirdness through both illogical release models (edible gummy skulls, limited edition vinyl made with human blood) and odd artistic choices (classic rock covers and a collaboration with Ke$ha). All of these things are further testaments to their willingness to greet all ideas with an emphatic YES! But that sense of life-affirming adventure has always been balanced by/grounded in a palpable awareness of death (see: “Is David Bowie Dying,” “The Spiderbite Song,” “Do You Realize?”).
Still, the band’s 13th release, The Terror, explores and evokes that vibe more thoroughly than anything else in the Lips’ catalogue. It’s an album that peaks quickly with opener “Look…the Sun Is Rising,” then spends the next 50 minutes in a dirgey k-hole of anxiously ambient soundscapes and existential contemplation. It’s not just that The Terror isn’t a fun listen—especially when compared to 2009’s ecstatically loose Embryonic and last year’s joyous, shambolic guest-fest, Heady Fwends. It’s more that the album is a different kind of crazy departure than anyone expected.
While there are many moments here that showcase the Lips’ unparalleled approach to sonic head-trips (“You Lust,” “Always There…In Our Hearts,” the title track), The Terror is bound to end up filed alongside the band’s lo-fi sci-fi film, Christmas on Mars, or that 24-hour song: It’s yet another part of The Flaming Lips mythology that’s better in theory than in practice.
Playlist picks: “The Terror,” “Look…the Sun Is Rising”