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The Flaming Lips
Flaming Lips discs come in two flavors: Accessibly Weird, like "The Soft Bulletin," and Extra Crazy, like 1997's four-disc noise puzzle, "Zaireeka." Their latest, "Embryonic," falls with a thud in the latter category. An extravagantly difficult exercise in musical derangement, it's the closest thing the Lips have made to a gloomy, jazz-influenced jam album with prog-rock inclinations. If reading that last sentence made you happy, you'll love it. In its own way, "Embryonic" is brave and smart and worth visiting because anything the Lips do is worth making an effort for, if you're willing to forget about "Christmas on Mars."
But it's also frustrating, overly long (70-plus minutes) and off-putting, a curious pastiche of sounds suggesting that after a decade-long winning streak that also produced gems "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" and "At War With the Mystics," the Lips' wouldn't-it-be-nuts-if-we-threw-all-these-noises-together aesthetic is starting to produce diminishing returns.
"Embryonic" is constructed around the Lips' semi-usual shambling psych-rock, with sonic devices that are both standard-issue ('50s flying saucer-type noises, frontman Wayne Coyne's uncertain falsetto) and novel (there's an atypically heavy emphasis on distortion). It's inaccessible and sad in ways that even the most challenging Lips records seldom are.
Some songs are fleshed-out and fascinating (like the Zeppelin-evoking "See the Leaves"), others are little more than high-pitched, screeching ideas. What "Embryonic" lacks is a great, unifying track, and without that vital connective tissue, without anything to humanize it, the best songs are merely explorations of the outer limits of the band's weird, wobbly id. The rest is just noise.
-- Allison Stewart
DOWNLOAD THESE: "See the Leaves," "Convinced of the Hex"
Mario's "Break Up" was one of the radio anthems of the summer because it made getting dumped seem fun. No one wants to be attached when being single means inhabiting a world filled with Sean Garrett hooks and intentionally off-kilter beats from producer Bangladesh, and where rapper Gucci Mane is your own personal shrink. "Girls are like buses/Miss one/Next 15/One comin'," Gucci advises.
Though listening to "Break Up" is like spending a night on the town with your friends, nursing drinks and a broken heart while listening to electric harp noise, most of the rest of "D.N.A.," the Baltimore native's latest album, contains music made for sucking down plastic-bottle vodka and drunk-dialing your ex.
"The Hardest Moment" refers to the roughest part of a relationship (and, inadvertently, of the album): "If you feel a tear/Falling on your lips/Girl, that would be mine," Mario sings in his most pitiful falsetto. On "Soundtrack to My Broken Heart," he lets everyone in on "how it sounds when my heart cries," with plenty of wounded notes. Maybe Mario chose the album's title because it makes you want to open a vein.
The CD isn't all gag-worthy lyrics, though: Mario is trying on a new electronic sound, making "D.N.A." a sort of weeping man's "FutureSex/LoveSounds." And when he stops whining about his broken heart, he does well, as on the straightforward sex jam "Starlight" and the similarly themed "Ooh Baby," which starts off with Mario claiming, "This one's for the radio!" -- which is nice, considering so much of "D.N.A." is music to cry by.
Mario performs Wednesday night at Sonar in Baltimore.
-- Sarah Godfrey
DOWNLOAD THESE: "Break Up," "Starlight," "Ooh Baby"