At the top of my list this year on Record Store Day was a compelling 2-LP set by one of my favorite bands, the latest in a series of super limited editions done in unusual — and ultimately unique — colored vinyl pressings. The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends is just what is purports to be: a collection of tracks with high profile, influential and hip friends of the band, including Ke$ha, Biz Markie, Bon Iver, The Magnetic Zeros, Prefuse 73, Tame Impala, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Nick Cave, Yoko Ono, Chris Martin, Erykah Badu, Neon Indian, Lightning Bolt, and New Fumes.
It might be smart at this point to take a step back on where The Flaming Lips are these days. since I suspect a bunch of you haven’t followed their saga a whole lot since Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2003) or The Soft Bulletin (1999). After they hit (arguably) a creative peak with At War With The Mystics (2005) the Flaming Lips found themselves painted into something of an artistic corner — they had taken their pop-psychedelia to a logical and fun conclusion that would appear redundant if they did a new album again that way.
Their initial release in the phase that followed, 2009’s Embryonic, was an intentionally underproduced recording — built upon rough, somewhat ambient sounding rehearsal tapes of the band jamming — and massaged into a compelling sounding, almost lo-fi, recording. It sounded good, but more in the way that an early Guided By Voices record or The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat sounds good as opposed to, say, a recording by post Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd. Surprisingly, Embryonic hit the Billboard Top 10 (who knew? I am the only person I know who bought the album) so I guess the band knew they were going in the right direction.
Anyhow, 2011 saw a lot of cool looking and funky sounding releases by the band, who intended to release a new recording each month or when an idea hit them. From a 6-hour song to a 24-hour song to a song designed to be played on 12 iPhones simultaneously, you gotta give these guys huge credit for pushing their envelope and — more importantly — recognizing it was time to do so. Like U2 before them, the band is taking chances now to enable big leaps (hopefully) forward and keep the band fresh for years to come. Read about all the cool releases and such on the band’s Wikipedia entry.
I could ramble on about the music on Heady Fwends, but suffice it to say, this album continues the flavor of the band’s latest experiments and is — frankly — pretty trippy! And I say this in a good way. This is the kind of music you put on and after a short while it gets under your skin and into your brain.
The sound is very ambient — lots of huge room sounds coupled with crunchy munchy digital distortion, blips, boops, beeps, sound samples, drums, and guitars exploding with harps chiming over them, followed by quiet 4 a.m. haunting melodies. At the end of each side is a continuos looping phrase (including Yoko Ono saying “Do it” among others — it’s the coolest use of a run off groove since The James Gang’s first (Yer Album), which beckoned you to “play me again” at the end of side two)
My favorite new tracks thus far include the album opener “2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)” featuring Ke$ha and Biz Markie, “I Don’t Want to Die” with Coldplay’s Chris Martin, and a stunning cover of Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” done with Eryka Badu. I say “new” tracks, since the album includes four cuts that appeared on the 12-inch EP releases from 2011. That said, you’ll get to hear The Flaming Lips with Yoko Ono and The Plastic Ono Band (“Do It”) and possibly my favorite title: “I’m Working at NASA on Acid” (featuring Lightning Bolt).
Links to YouTube postings of all those songs can be found in the artist listing above.
Which raises the point of, well, if you can find all the songs online, why should you want them on vinyl like this? Because this is art, man! And this is really fine art, in that it’s within reach of the everyman and each disc is unique. As a collector, I find it very funny that people are selling the discs “sealed” online, because with a release like this, the value will go up based on what is inside the album. The prettier the album, I suspect the higher the value of the disc will be. Only 10,000 of these puppies were made. I may well buy another copy if I find it just to see if I get any cooler colors! As it stands, I am very very happy with my copy. One disc is somewhat bland marbled gold brown (okay, it looks a bit like dog poo, I’ll admit) but the other one is simply gorgeous, with jade, teal, and black bursting out from the yellowish background and taking up most of the record’s center. That the music is good is a bonus!
Here is Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips walking you through the new set:
And an extra bonus — from the band’s New Year’s show, an epic cover of a Beatles’ classic: