The Flaming Lips begin the new Embryonic with “Convinced Of The Hex,” a stunted, herky-jerky, head-trip anthem that would’ve fit well on the Lips’ previous album, the splattery At War With The Mystics. “Convinced Of The Hex” may be the worst song on Embryonic, but it’s a necessary transition to where the band then travels. The next track, “The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine,” sounds like a coda to “Convinced,” except that it’s more fluid, melodic, and rhythmic, using just a few words and a rolling beat to convey the wonder of the organic being dwarfed by the electronic.
From there, Embryonic continues into the abstract and the abrasive while re-committing to the sense of awe and beauty that made The Soft Bulletin such a breakthrough a decade ago. The Flaming Lips do a lot with a little here, beginning nearly every track with a low pulse and a scrap of a lyrical idea, as though each song were a footnote to the one before. Because of that digressive approach, Embryonic is a song-cycle with no summary and no climax. Instead, the album is full of small moments of release: an overly loud harp-strum here, distorted bass and drums there, celestial synths and funky bongos everywhere.
Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne said during the making of Embryonic that this was going to be the band’s most experimental record, but it isn’t that far off the beam, really. Parts of it sound like the futuristic soundscapes of Zaireeka, and parts like the mellower passages of Mystics. The Lips nod to Neil Young, Pink Floyd, and Walt Disney as always, but also to Joy Division, Santana, and Gary Numan. Defying its own title, Embryonic presents a band discovering that the far edge of an idea is often more compelling than its core.