Saturday, April 20, 2013

Recent Listening: Flaming Lips, Broadcast, The United States of America

I've been marinating in some melodic weirdness lately...

The Flaming Lips: Christmas on Mars

I still haven't heard the Flaming Lips' new album, "The Terror", though I'm looking forward to it. In the meantime, I've finally taken the plunge into the soundtrack to their movie "Christmas on Mars". Still haven't seen the movie, either, and I almost don't want to, since this record fills my head with otherworldy imagery all on its own.

Artful sweeps, pulses, echoes, flourishes, and sparkles perfectly evoke the dread of outer space. The music swims in a murk that suggests strategies orchestral, synthetic, Mellotromatic, and who knows what else. It's frightening and wondrous in ways that encourage repeated listening. Come to think of it, the phrase "Christmas on Mars" sums up the Lips' music in general. I think this is my favorite album of theirs so far.

Broadcast: The Future Crayon

I'm a longtime Broadcast fan, though my listening has rarely gone beyond the casual. I've often thought, "I need to sit down and really dig into this stuff sometime." With the recent passing of singer Trish Keenan and the emergence of the "Berbian Sound Studio" collection, they've been on my mind again.

I've finally given a closer listen to the "Future Crayon" album, which it turns out is a rarities and B-sides compilation-- never realized that before. It sounds much more unified than that, and in fact is really well curated and programmed. All the material balances hummable melody and compact pop arrangements with outre sonic exploration, and over its course the record delves further and further into a spacey weirdness that eventually dispenses with vocals altogether-- a choice I wish more bands would make more often.

Looking into Broadcast's background, it doesn't take long to discover that their sound is modeled after that of late 60s rock experimentalists The United States of America, yet another band I've been vaguely aware of but have missed the boat on all this time.

I love this stuff! Again, a great balance of the mellifluous and the bizarre. It's truly psychedelic material: the lyrics range from the abstract to the cleverly satirical, and the variety of instrumentation, meter, and studio techniques are truly out there, way beyond simply drenching a conventional rock arragement in some effect or other. (Though I will say the use of ring modulator is really cool.)

I believe this is their only album, but I feel blessed to finally hear it.

Mike Hallenbeck home page

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