The Flaming Lips - The Terror | Album Review | By Volume

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The Flaming Lips

The Terror

A light/dark schism swings the latter way and allows the Lips to hone in on their famed intrigue.

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Author: on May 15, 2013
8.5
Bella Union / Warner Bros.
April 1, 2013

It has been over twenty-five years since The Flaming Lips first graced the music world with their unique brand of rock music. In the early days, their music was brash and psychedelic. Its grit and edge helped them to develop a fiercely committed cult following. Their sound has changed over the years, and while their fanbase has undoubtedly morphed along with it, they have never failed to show complete mastery of the genre or motif their music was embracing at any time. Whether the experimentalism of Zaireeka, the anthemic pop-rock of The Soft Bulletin, or the indefinable “weirdness” of Embryonic, The Flaming Lips have always taken the opportunity to create vibrant imagery with their music.

Unsurprisingly given its title, the imagery that accompanies their 13th LP is somewhat terrifying. At any given moment the listener is poised to become submerged in expansive, hypnotic noise; The Terror gives off an eerie, unsettling vibe, and yet, at the same time, has a comforting quality to it. It evokes a sensation akin to standing face-to-face with an endless abyss of unknown darkness – with all the familiarity and light still behind you. A track like “You Lust” exemplifies this, almost baiting the listener with its first few minutes of pleasant sound and warm vocals, before evolving into a mysteriously repetitive piece of entrancing and off-putting music. The floor toms pound away rhythmically, as electric guitar chords are whammy-bar’d beyond recognition and a creepy mechanical whirring sound just barely breaks through the background noise. This goes on for a few minutes before Wayne Coyne’s voice returns, this time quietly chanting – whispering almost – the phrase “lust to succeed” over and over. (You know that film cliché where one of the characters takes some psychedelic drugs and it’s followed by a montage of said character beginning to freak out as he/she starts to hallucinate?) Other tracks also display this conscious juxtaposition of light and dark. “Try to Explain” is an inviting cut without much in the way of dark imagery until its closing moments. It almost seems like it was placed near the beginning of the record to make it more accessible to first time listeners, as the track list definitely grows darker and more twisted as it progresses. By the time it reaches its halfway mark at “You Are Alone”, The Terror has completely enveloped the listener, and only brief glimmers of light break through the darkness.

The battle between light and dark helps to make The Terror one of The Flaming Lips’ most cohesive albums to date. Embryonic (still absolutely perfect in its own way) was a wonderfully elaborate mess of songs that seemed to bounce off the walls, changing directions at every turn, each with its own nature, and it was up to the listener to attempt to pull it all together. Almost in direct contrast to this, The Terror feels more of a complete album without losing that same punch, one that asks to be experienced in one sitting rather than piece by piece. It really is impressive to step back and look at all the distinctly different ways that The Flaming Lips can musically communicate with their fans. Since the 1980s, they have been making a full-length album about every two years, and they have yet to create anything that feels stale or close to a rip-off of their previous work. They are constantly looking forward in an attempt to create new and exciting sounds, and never seem to be satisfied with their existing body of work.

It is likely that people will disagree with me about the themes of The Terror. I’m okay with that, because each of their records is designed to take the listener on an emotional journey in which individual interpretations go hand-in-hand with a broader message or tone. It really makes listening to The Flaming Lips a unique experience; The Terror is definitely a frightening album, not because it forces fear upon you, but because it evokes a terror you already know from a place you rarely venture.

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