The Flaming Lips – Embryonic (Retro) Review

A Grower

Before I begin writing this review, I have to give full disclosure and admit that I showed up late to The Flaming Lips musical masquerade party. I missed out on “She Don’t Use Jelly,” The Soft Bulletin, and everything else. For years, the band orbited around my auditory peripheral vision, mostly from friends telling me how much I would love them due to their obvious Syd Barrett/Pink Floyd undertones and Butthole Surfers sensabilities. It wasn’t until I finally gave them a chance with Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots that I realized my friends were right all along.

By 2009, The Lips had grown into a much more popular band than anyone could have envisioned in their earlier years. With the success of the song “Do You Realize,” the critical acclaim laid on them for The Soft Bulletin, and their mesmerizing, legendary live shows, they had become one of the few that could easily headline Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, July 4th on The Mall, Coachella, and your backyard BBQ. Their music appealed to a wide array of listeners, much like Janes Addiction’s did before them. Hippies, folkies, metalheads, and hipsters alike were all on The Flaming Lips bandwagon. They were a fun, psychedelic, experimental, punky-meets-jam band with catchy songs about death, and a singer who dances atop the audience inside of a see thru ball. What’s not to like?

So what did the band do at this point of their now well over 20-year career? They released Embryonic, perhaps their most inaccessible album since Zaireeka.

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Polvo: In Prism

Can one band manage to sound like both Led Zeppelin and Sonic Youth, and yet still somehow get tagged as some mathrock prog outfit? Yes, apparently. Polvo’s fantastic new record In Prism is a unique and original sounding disc that shatters labels and transcends genres to land in the lofty pile of great rock records.

Not unlike Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks recent Real Emotional Trash album, In Prism also pulls off the rare trick of being immediately likable as well as a grower that gets better with more listens. And also like that album, it’s hard to describe as it meanders through rockers, quiet somewhat-psychedelic interludes, stomping beats, and catchy crunching riffs (often all within one song).

It really doesn’t sound like Zeppelin OR Sonic Youth, regardless of what my first line of this review said. And there are a few other loose and partially inaccurate comparisons that could be made, but I just can’t put my finger on them.

The bottom line is that this is just a really great record, easily among the best of 2009. If you like rock music, if you like interesting music, I can’t see how you wouldn’t love this album. And despite all the critics calling it alt-prog mathrock, it’s actually pretty catchy and easy to listen to.

Funny story: I’d actually never heard of Polvo until I read something about this new album. Apparently (I’ve since found out) they were a relatively well-known alt-rock outfit in the 90’s, and this album is a reunion of sorts after a 10-year hiatus. I guess the shifting tempos and unconventional arrangements are what got them that mathrock label. I don’t know, I’ve still never heard their old albums. But I’ve been streaming this forthcoming new album (to be released September 8, 2009) on the Merge Records website over and over again since it first sunk its hooks into me a few weeks ago.

So of course I email a couple guitarist friends of mine to say “you’ve got to check out this band called Polvo, this new album is streaming free for a while.” Well, one of the guys shoots back sarcastically “have you heard of this great new band called The Who?” and proceeds to inform me that the other guy actually named his dog Polvo. So yea, they’d heard of them.

I’m generally the kind of guy who’s heard of a lot of bands that most consider “obscure” or whatever, but obviously I must have missed this one. I spent most of the 90’s listening to either Grateful Dead or hip-hop. So excuse me if freakin’ Polvo is now such mainstream old news. But really… POLVO? I’m a Johnny-come-lately for not knowing POLVO? Welcome to the internet, circa 2009, where you can be laughed at as the “last to know” by streaming a new album that isn’t even out yet.

Reviewing the Reviews: Ryan Adams – Cardinology

Maybe someone can write a “Ryan Adams Album Review Generator” program where some software will just spit out all the necessary buzzwords for a review that somehow says his new album is good and that his old ones are also good but do it in some sort of backhanded compliment way.

It must include the word PROLIFIC, as well as pastiche, antics, Gram Parsons, editor, enfant terrible and/or “bad boy,” Grateful Dead, focus, quality/quantity, and something about dating actresses or whatever…

Perusing 18 different published reviews of Ryan Adams and The Cardinals new Cardinology CD, I was amazed and amused at what I found. Sure, there’s was the usual varying of opinions (some loved it, some sorta liked it, some found it predictable and boring), but that’s to be expected with any album. Reading the reviews, apparently someone must have invented that “Ryan Adams Album Review Generator” software, cuz it’s obviously been put to some use.

Among these 18 reviews, the word “prolific” is used 12 times (including two mentions of “prolificacy” and one time Adams is even called “insanely prolific”). It is the very first word of one review, the second word of another, and it appears in the first sentence of five other reviews and in the second sentence of yet another two. One review claims that “he became obsessive-compulsive about recording anything that rhymed.” Continue reading →