“When two people dream the same dream, it ceases to be an illusion.” – Philip K. Dick
The Flaming Lips have recorded my generation’s Dark Side of the Moon. Listening to Embryonic—the Oklahoma band’s 12th album—is like watching a movie: a strange, majestic, hypnagogic movie. Or are you watching a dream? Or are you experiencing the collective unconscious of eternity? Or taking a stroll through the dark corners of Wayne Coyne’s mind? Is it a coincidence Embryonic is being released one week before Carl Jung’s The Red Book, the 100-year old manuscript which will be a guided tour of Jung’s descent into madness and hallucination? No. The connections are manifest. The hallucinations are real. If you and I dream it, then it will be so. So buy Embryonic, turn out the lights, silence the phone, feed the dog, and drug the wife. Lie down in dark comfort.
Embryonic is the most psychedelic thing I’ve experienced, and I count mushrooms as a “psychedelic thing.” Listening to it is like watching all time occur in the same instance, all possible historical narratives slicing into each other at the nexus of the universe. It is the best concept album since Dark Side. There’s even a great guitar solo. Yes, a “great guitar solo” on a Flaming Lips’ album. And when you get to “Scorpio Sword,” and the music finally resolves itself, it is like falling in love, seeing the Grand Canyon, skydiving, and dying all at the same time.
In a few months, we will have a party. We will hear Embryonic, but we will not speak. We will return home and dream the same dreams. We will meet Jung and Dick and Coyne in our dream(s), which will be real because they will be the same. We will meet a girl. She may be in danger, but she has magical powers that transmogrify. Once her ego is crushed, she can transform into anything: a frog, a bat, a bear, a cat, a lion, a gila monster, a warrior indian, a helicopter, a wolf, a finch, a jaguar, a locust, a monkey, a tiger, a tornado. We will ponder the eternal question: Is there evil in nature?
She has already concluded people are evil; they must choose to be kind. She is having a conversation with a gentleman named Wayne Coyne, who also happens to be the lead singer of a band called the Flaming Lips. The songs are a philosophical dialogue, fluctuating between dark, “Your Bats,” and light, “Gemini Syringes.” Dark songs are bass-and-drums-heavy vamps, similar to Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9.” Light songs are spaced-out and synth-heavy with Coyne’s heavenly voice and clean poetry floating at their center. Songs like “Evil” feel like a long, cool nap after four hours of tantric sex. The orchestration is lush and psychedelic; the melody is astral; and the mood is pacific. The song creates a place to ponder the nature of evil: is evil an innate part of human nature? Or is evil a symptom of circumstance? There’s more to our dream, but let’s leave it that. For as Jung wrote, “Dreams are always a little bit ahead of the dreamer’s consciousness. Knowledge is no advantage when it is a matter of one’s own dreams.”
Later comes “The Impulse,” which is the reason the auto-tuner was invented. Only the Flaming Lips could take a piece of technology that has come to represent all that is wrong with music and make something truly amazing with it. Only the Flaming Lips could record a Kafkaesque album. Only the Flaming Lips could best their 2002 masterpiece Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. While Yoshimi is also a concept album, I’ve never had any trouble skipping to the title track and “Do You Realize??” when I’m in the right mood. I cannot imagine listening to a single song from Embryonic, or even listening to a part of the album. It must be experienced fully and completely.
Because it is a double album—by vinyl standards, anyway—it will seem logical to compare it to The Wall. But the similarities stop at length. The Wall lacks the psychotropic wonder of Dark Side and Embryonic. The Wall was recorded as Pink Floyd was just about done as a band. Listening to Embryonic, one gets the feeling this is only the beginning for the Flaming Lips. The band will soon begin their third decade together. Who knows what brilliance may yet come? To quote Jung again: “The dream is a little hidden door into the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul, opening into the cosmic night which was psyche long before there was any ego.”
David Paul Kleinman is a longtime contributor to the site.