Review Summary: A return to pop sensibilities…
The Flaming Lips are one of those psychedelic bands that manage to twist your brain while listening to them sober. Whether hazy, dreamy, glacial or chaotic, they are truly mesmerizing, opening doors into their universe where you are bound to get lost. The band struck gold several times throughout their career despite some drastic changes in sound. Last year’s King’s Mouth
brought back acoustic elements and the latest affair, American Head
further builds on them. The resulting collection of tracks is their most straightforward and conventional since Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
Overall, American Head
paints quite a lethargic portrait of the suburban life. The Xanax-induced euphoria it evokes masks the danger and damage lurking in the shadows. Tales of brain frying decisions and life altering drug experiences or consequences are discussed here mainly from teenager perspectives. What events these young Americans put themselves or are unwillingly put through are universally relatable today. The sonic foundation features mostly mellow piano chords and acoustic guitars. Over them, the group added various effects-drenched synthesizers and orchestral arrangements that ultimately reminisce their magnum opus, The Soft Bulletin
. The embellishments are stemmed from recent albums, yet everything was combined in a very smooth way. My one small complaint is regarding the bass’ presence, which could have been a tad more audible. Moreover, front man Wayne Coyne does a solid job in filtering dark memories through his trademark, inspiring childish optimism. Highlights include the nostalgic ‘Flowers of Neptune 6’, whose sweet picked guitar and lush piano lines build up towards a glorious, horns assisted finale. Also, the subdued guitar strums on ‘Mother I’ve Taken LSD’ & 'Will You Return/Will You Come Down' gently march alongside lovely strings and Mellotron leads. These are one of the most unabashedly beautiful tracks the guys offered in almost two decades. Especially the breaks after the former's choruses are so enticing. On the other hand, ‘Brother Eye’ boasts a mournful tone, where pulsing keys are joined by minimal synths and occasionally pushed by kick drums. The vocoded croons complement the track’s grieving atmosphere and Wayne’s fragile delivery. Meanwhile, the playful rhythm of ‘At the Movies on Quaaludes’ almost makes you forget its story consisting of what stupid dreams loaded brains emit. In a way, the innocence in Coyne’s voice makes his tale seem closer to daydreams and not of a life thrown down the drain. This duality is very prevalent on this much smarter than it initially appears to be LP.
Akin to its lyrics, American Head
ends up as a timeless adventure. Even though it tends to fall a bit too much on the mellow side, it’s great to see how focused The Flaming Lips are again. Despite the similarities, the record does not fall in The Soft Bulletin
’s shadow. It is definitely the work of a veteran act that learned how to evolve their sound and incorporate the past into it too. Luckily, they have reached another high point in their volatile career, continuing to move forward.