[One-Off] – ‘Zygotic’ (After the Flaming Lips’ ‘Embryonic’) (2009)


I would never have guessed I’d be making a mix in response to a Flaming Lips album, in 2009.  But the Lips, purveyors of grinning, gleeful quirk-pop, festooned by confetti and bunny suits during the last decade–a recipe with initial charm but diminishing returns–have, according to Wayne Coyne, killed off their “former selves . . . Our more crafty or calculated selves. Our less brave selves . . . Our less spontaneous selves”.  Thus in their 26th year, the band has created what I feel is their strongest work ever: ‘Embryonic,’ (which can be streamed here at NPR).  I was so floored by the strength of the album–a total surprise, including its staggering cover–that rather than trying to review the album, I felt compelled to respond in mix form, with ‘Zygotic‘.  The Flaming Lips’ new album borrows from the production techniques and stylistic eclecticism of their previous best, ‘Zaireeka,’ and from the manic energy and freak-out distortion of their 80s and early-90s albums.  The stylishness and cinematic scope of their most acclaimed album, ‘The Soft Bulletin,’ is channeled into a darker, sparer, more visceral direction.  Though there are moments of silliness and optimism, most of the cartoonish clowning (“She Don’t Use Jelly,” “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots”) and scrubbed-clean brightness of their mainstream successes is gone.  The lyrics remain largely abstract, but a more lifelike character voice is conveyed, one wrestling with the ambiguities of humanity that can be “evil” but can “be gentle, too, if they decide”.   It all adds up to their most sonically vigorous, sometimes most soothing, sometimes most ferocious, and certainly most emotionally evocative work to date.

Looking back, I see that 1997’s ‘Zaireeka‘ was a truly mind-altering experience, formative in my expectations of what music could do in terms of sound, increasing my appreciation of how sounds could be produced and arranged on a record.  Without it, I doubt I would have traveled as readily during the next couple of years into Can, 70s Miles Davis, early Reich, Faust, Silver Apples, early dub, or the more experimental side of post-punk–to say nothing of music concrete favorites like Bernard Parmegiani or Pierre Henry a few years later.  ‘Embryonic‘ proves the link was no fluke, as it reflects a deep connection with many of the sounds that are central to the Musicophilia aesthetic–to the music they propelled me toward.  ‘Zygotic‘ is not meant to suggest, however, that Coyne & Co. have created a pastiche; the mix isn’t an attempt at sonic genealogy, and I wouldn’t claim that any of this music is definitely a direct inspiration for the Lips’ resurgence.  ‘Embryonic‘ is imbued with a here-and-now quality, and it maintains a wit and vocabulary that is uniquely Flaming Lips–ultimately it sounds like nothing else.  Rather, ‘Zygotic‘ is primarily intended as an echo (or pre-echo, as it were) of the spirit of the album; and only secondarily is it an attempt to illustrate the sound-heritage from which the Lips may have drawn inspiration.

I’ve followed the overall form of the album: two halves totaling roughly 70 minutes, in 18 parts, all interlinked with repeating motifs and sounds.  I’ve also attempted to match the careful blend of the beautiful and the ugly, the ambient and the massively heavy, that characterizes ‘Embryonic‘.  The result is hopefully a nice counterpart to the album–but certainly not a replacement for it, and I highly recommend you buy it from the band or at your local record shop.  If you need some convincing for the download, I’ll break down the mixes after the “more…” link, along with the full tracklist.  Personally, I recommend that you surprise yourself and listen to the mixes first, and then look at the artists and tracklist later.  So, if you trust my mixing heretofore, here is the download link.

Embryonic‘s central production feature is the classic Lips technique of very heavily compressing the drums, creating a distorted, absolutely massive sound, this time devoted to more intricate and sexier beats than ever before.  Other sonic “solids” are created with stabs of distorted guitar, swooping harps, distant bells, and subtle percussion.  But despite these distorted and compressed elements, the music is (literally) highly dynamic, and around and between these sonic boulders and rocks is a beautiful and melodious stream of electric piano and organ, treated vocals, strings and xylophones, and ambient texture.  ‘Zygotic‘ recreates this blend from two major strands.  First, art rock (Krautrock especially,) sound library and soundtrack music, and fusion jazz–all with drums as huge as possible–recreate the bursting energy and ferocious beats.  And second, work from minimalists, hazy psychedelia and musique concrete artists creates the contemplative web of melody and texture that holds the mix together.

From the heavy camp, we have artists like Led Zeppelin (who created the original mammoth rock drum sound) and Miles Davis (with the insanely heavy “Rated X”), early Kraftwerk, Ennio Morricone’s The Feed-Back, the Silver Apples, Jaki Liebezeit-led Can, This Heat’s Charles Hayward, White Noise, Heldon, Joe Ufer, Janko Nilovic and Faust.  Adding texture and experimentalism are Tod Dockstader, Jon Appleton, Yoko Ono, Erkki Kurenniemi, Pierre Henry, Dick Raiijmakers, Alvin Curran, Tangerine Dream’s Klaus Schultze, Francois Bayle, and Bernard Parmegiani.  And tying it all together with moody beauty are David Axelrod, Roy BuddPierre Arvay, Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Co., Neu, Cluster, Alice Coltrane, Nino Nardini, Egisto Macchi, Joe Meek, Bernard Estardy, Brian Eno, Luciano Cilio, Franco Battiato and the United States of America.  Of course, none of these is segregated from the rest, and hopefully it is their intertwining which makes this mix a successful homage to ‘Embryonic‘.

Various Artists – ‘Zygotic’ (2009)
(After the Flaming Lips’ ‘Embryonic’)

Disc I

01 [00:00]

Jon Appleton – “Infantasy” (1969)
Led Zeppelin – “When the Levee Breaks” (1971)
Tod Dockstader – “Four Telemetry Tapes – No. 1” (1965)

02   [04:25]

Yoko Ono – “Greenfield Morning I Pushed an Empty Baby Carriage” (1970)
Miles Davis – “Rated X” (1975)

03   [07:25]

Roy Budd – “Hallucinations” (1971)

04   [11:41]

Kraftwerk – “Stratovarious, Part 1” (1971)
The Feed-Back – “Kumalo” (1970)
Erkki Kurenniemi – “Hana” (1969)

05   [13:26]

Pierre Arvay – “All Day Long” (1975)
Tod Dockstader – “Four Telemetry Tapes, No. 3” (1965)

06   [16:04]

Kraftwerk – “Stratovarious, Part 2” (1971)
Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Co. – “Easter” (1970)
Neu – “Im Glück” (1969)

07   [22:26]

Kluster – “5” (1971)
Silver Apples – “Water” (1969)
Nino Nardini – “Depart Pour le Cosmos” (1970)

08   [26:49]

Alice Coltrane – “Lovely Sky Boat” (1968)
United States of America – “Cloud Song” (1968)
Pierre Henry – “Valse” (1970)

09   [30:29]

Can – “Mushroom” (1971)
Dick Raaijmakers – “Canon 1: Super Augere” (1964)
Egisto Macchi – ‘Voix” (1975)

Disc II

01 [00:00]

David Axelrod – “The Human Abstract” (1969)
Alvin Curran – “From a Room on the Plazza” (1974)

02   [05:22]

Joe Meek – “The Bublight” (1962)

03   [07:33]

Klaus Schulze – “Satz: Gewitter” (1972)
Suicide – “I Remember” (1977)

04   [10:39]

Heldon – “Ballade pour Puig Antich” (1975)
Charles Hayward – “Crystal Palace” (1987)
Bernard Estardy – “Marche À L’échafaud” (1972)

05   [17:57]

Franco Battiato – “Mutazione” (1972)
Franco Battiato – “Meccanica, Part 2” (1972)
White Noise – “The Black Mass – An Electric Storm in Hell” (1969)

06   [21:59]

Faust – “Party 1” (1973)
Cluster – “Für Die Katz” (1972)

07   [25:35]

Francois Bayle – “Solitude” (1969)
Janko Nilovic – “Duty Free” (1970)

08   [28:45]

Brian Eno – “Through Hollow Lands” (1977)
Luciano Cilio – “Studio for Winds” (1977)
Joe Ufer – “Drums on Phasing, No. 2” (1973)

09   [31:26]

Bernard Parmegiani – “Accidents/Harmoniques” (1975)
Miles Davis – “Willie Nelson (Insert 1)” (1970)

[Total Time: 71:09]

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