Embryionic was supposedly about rebirth, but it feels more like a long, hazy incubation. Mr. Coyne and his army of digitized oddities endlessly float in a sea of their own fuzzy ambiance for 18 tracks, and it is easy to lose oneself in the chaos. That is not to say it has been an interesting development, but don't expect the songwriting timelessness of The Soft Bulletin or the anthems of Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. Here we have something of a ghost of Christmas (on Mars—ha!) past, a sort of ethereal reflection. To be fair, Embryonic is also a pure embodiment of their sound; washed out, psychadelic mind-melters with a proclivity towards tear-jerking cadences and beautiful noises scattered and strange, a return to the raw elements of the Lips.
18 is a number where attempts at cohesion, especially in the manic alternative rock world, are diluted at best. Althought Embryonic clocks in at just over an hour, much of the shorter tracks seem like drugged out afterthoughts more than carefully placed soundscapes. This is just the raw essence of the band, a trendy mess of songs that when separated seem kind of fascinating, and when scrunched together, almost hypnotizing. The repeating riff from "Convinced Of The Hex" peaks out at the beginning of "Sorpio" but as far as referential material, not much is immediately evident upon the first listen. If there is a more thematic thread I'm missing, then it is either subtle, obscured, or too generic to be considered significant. I'm sure plenty of seriously stoned twenty-somethings might see this differently. But that is just the point; the experimental ear-gobbling licks are not meant to make total sense. They are meant to spook and mystify, and where At War With The Mystics imploded, the incubated tracks of Embryonic radiate with life.
As far as recognition goes, you can stop holding your breath— there is plenty of Flaming Lips squeezed into every track. There are weird vocal effects, piercing falsetto screams, wind chimes, laser noises, bells, and just about everything else one could imagine. It is a fun listen. I think the Lips fail to emerge totally reborn, rather opting for a soft opening to a new direction. The background choir boys of "Virgo Self-Esteem Broadcast" is a nicely compacted hybrid of orchestral, electronic, sampled, and pyschadelia; an easy summary for the bands successes. The Flaming Lips excel in having a sound that seems almost Kid B (if such a thing existed for real and not just in my head). "Virgo" leads into the booming "Watching The Planets," which cleverly observes The Lips "killing the ego tonight." I thought the 'Ego' of this record had it's last stand on "The Ego's Last Stand?" (which, incidentally, is track 10, right where the album could have ended if the Ego were truly dead).
After all is said and done, the greatest success is on the last three tracks. "Silver Trembling Hands" is an actual song, "Virgo" is a great quirky interlude, and "Watching" is the best possible conclusion. "I've got no secrets to hide" says Wayne, and I totally agree. We know what he thinks of himself. The Flaming Lips are still his mind's eye; and it is still every bit as kaleidoscopic and interesting. - joe puglisi