I was very excited this morning. New Flaming Lips album, you know. That wonderful band that kicked me in the ass with Transmissions to the Satellite Heart , uplifted me with The Soft Bulletin and depressed the shit out of me with Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots have a new album out. Oh happy day in the month before May. (That was lame.)
If only the weather reflected my joy. I had some classes this afternoon so I had to deal with all that, and then I had to deal with walking back to my dorm IN THE SNOW - what the hell? It's fucking April. I shouldn't have to be pulling my hood over my face to prevent a fucking snow barrage. It should be sunny and lovely and I should be walking in around in a fucking cheeky T-shirt basking in the glory of God's illuminating orgy of light. (That was redundant and I don't care.) It seemed as if nature itself was making my journey to listen to this album unreasonably annoying.
But no! I got back to my dorm, sat down, put on my almost-broken headphones and listened to At War With The Mystics all the way through, no breaks. And I am wholly satisfied. I have some small gripes with the album, sure, but not enough to take away from a really enjoyable listening experience, something that the Lips never fail to deliver.
It starts off with "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song." Now, I do like this song - it's got a killer chorus that reminds me of "Clouds Taste Metallic" and it's a very energetic way to start the album off. What's with all the little cutesy noises and shit, though? I mean, the "YAH YAH YAH" thing I can deal with, but when he starts with the whole "no no no no NO!" thing it starts to border on corny. My problem here - it's the Flaming Lips trying to sound weird, which they really don't need to do. You're already fucking weird, Wayne. You know it!! You don't need throw random arcade noises and "funny" stuff like that in a song like this to make it sound weird. You couldn't be normal if you tried. But still, it's a cool song that doesn't quite represent the rest of the album.
Same goes for "Free Radicals" - kind of a hard song for me to embrace. Cool groove, and I like the "You think you're radical..." line, but it sounds like they're going for a Beckish sound and it's not really my thing. It's a little... well, awkward. But it's not bad.
I think the record really picks up on "Sound of Failure" - holy crap, a Lips song you can kind of dance to!! It takes the grooviness of "Yoshimi" and kicks it up a notch (I'm tempted to pull an Emeril joke here but that would be really lame), and it feels totally natural and fun, unlike the first two songs. It also pulls of this neat little trick of getting oddly quiet and subdued near the end of the track, a trick employed later in the album (I'll talk about that a bit more later on).
Then there's "My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion," which has kind of a stereotypical Lips-ish title but is really fucking beautiful anyway. And I think I like "Vein of Stars" just as much. The Lips have a knack for talking about outer-space... I don't quite know why. "The Wizard Turns On..." is odd but a cool instrumental, which sets an uneasy tone for the next half of the album.
I wasn't sure about "It Overtakes Me" at first - it's chanting threw me off a bit, and I wish there were more substantial lyrics to its structure than "It overtakes me/It wakes and bakes me!" But it's still fun, and it leads into this great pretty, slower part in the middle, and then one of my favorite parts of the album comes up - everything mysteriously drops out of the mix except for an acoustic guitar. It's only about thirty seconds long, but it's a beautiful coda to the song, and it's a nice reminder of how powerful a lone guitar can really sound. Probably the best example I can give of that "sudden subdued ending" trick I mentioned earlier.
"Mr. Ambulance Driver" sounds even better now in the course of the album, I think, after the coda of "Overtakes." Fun, bouncy, kind of sad song. "Haven't Got A Clue" I thought was going to go for that "trying to be weird" thing I talked about earlier but, on the contrary, actually does feel weird - the instruments don't seem to be working with each other, Wayne's voice seems to be in its own little world, and there's this cool organ backing I can't get enough of. Nice.
"The W.A.N.D." has a sweet guitar riff - when was the last time the Lips had an awesome guitar riff?? Like, 1995, for fuck's sake. And Wayne says "motherfucker" in it! Hahaha. The melody's a little overtaken by the production but that's really nitpicking. It's such a cool track.
"Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung". Okay, my listening experience - around 1:33 into the song I literally said "Whoaaa" and turned the volume up. I haven't done that with any song in a long time. It's basically the Lips trying on an uplifting type of Pink Floyd-ism, and it works astoundingly well. If the Lips ever did a straight-up prog-rock album in the style of this track I have no doubt it would be fucking awesome. And then we end with "Goin' On", a nice, simple, pleasant track with a strong Wayne vocal that doesn't go nuts or anything, which is nice. The "uh-huh"s in the background get to me a little bit, but they're minor in the mix. A nice way to end the album.
I'll say this - At War With The Mystics isn't really the album to get if you don't know the Flaming Lips very well. In that case, I'd say go for Transmissions, Clouds, Soft Bulletin and maybe Yoshimi before this one. "Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" and "Free Radicals", while worthy songs, start the album off a little awkwardly, but it really picks up after those. It's probably unfair for me to single those two tracks out so much, but they make the Lips sound like they're trying too hard, which bothers me. Maybe I just need to listen to them a bit more...
But what intrigues me so much about this album is that it feels like the band has found a groove, and very distinct, cool groove exemplified by songs like "Sound of Failure" and "W.A.N.D." This kind of stuff was used in Yoshimi mostly for texture - here it sounds like they're enjoying themselves more. The album overall isn't quite as consistent as the last two, but meh. It's so good I didn't care. If you have any interest in the Lips at all pick this up A.S.A.P.
Oh, and a song every Flaming Lips fan should check out - "The Golden Path" by the Chemical Brothers. It's got Stephen Drozd (at least I think it's him) sing-narrating a cool little story about the afterlife, and then Wayne Coyne comes in at the end singing "I never meaaaaant to hurt youuuu!" Great beat, great song. Like a techno-Echo and the Bunnymen. Check it out at your local Best Buy. Or download it illegally like the filth you all are. That's what I did.
SIDENOTE: Something I almost forgot - after I came in from that snow and I listened to Mystics all the way through, I opened my windowshade and saw the sun shining through, the outside clear as day. The Flaming Lips stopped a fucking snowstorm. God I love them.