The ever-experimental Flaming Lips return with their first proper studio album since 2013’s The Terror and it sees the psychedelic group continue to explore the sounds that seem to have so keenly interested them in the time since their last album. This was made abundantly clear on the teaser tracks leading up to this release, with a similar ambient vibe appearing on these cuts, along with a continued use of more electronic-based instrumentation. Also, the Miley Cyrus feature on We a Family furthers the band’s association with the pop figure, although it was worryingly indicative of The Flaming Lips persisting with the godawful and grating production and pseudo-psychedelic tripe that appeared on their previous collaboration with Cyrus in the form of her 2015 release, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz; a one and a half hour effort predominantly featuring a presumably baked Miley Cyrus screeching over top some of the worst musical material Wayne Coyne and co. have ever spewed out onto tape. Thankfully, the ideas from Cyrus’ 2015 album only appear in limited quantities on Oczy Mlody, and in a more digestible format; or perhaps I should say in a less indigestible format. I must say that the singles from this new Flaming Lips record provided quite a mixed bag in terms of both quality and sound. Certain tracks evoked a psychedelic pop sentiment reminiscent of some of the band’s previous, and better, material, particularly The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. This seems to be a deliberate move by the band as, for instance, the title of the second single from this new project, How??, brings to mind the group’s seminal single Do You Realize??. Sunrise (Eyes of the Young), is another single that felt like somewhat of a rebirth for the band. Other singles, however, demonstrated Coyne et al’s desire to develop the electronic and somewhat ambient sound that they worked towards on The Terror, most notably on The Castle. With singles giving off such mixed vibes, my expectations of the record weren’t very high. Whilst How?? and Sunrise (Eyes of the Young) were two singles that I rather liked, I was apprehensive that these two tracks existed to lure in fans of the band’s material from around the turn of the millennium, and that they would be the only two of their kind on Oczy Mlody. However, some of my uncertainties surrounding this release were fortunately not entirely realised on the final product.
The opening instrumental and title track of the album serves as a fitting establishment of Oczy Mlody‘s aesthetic. In fact, it should be said right from the start that this album certainly has a lot of character to it, much of which emerges from the modern psychedelic aesthetic that The Flaming Lips engrain into all the tracks across this release. This introductory track leads nicely into How??, a track that interested me quite a lot upon my first listen, although some of that initial intrigue has now worn off. Still, the soft synths that provide the foundation for this track are rather pretty, and the deep, rumbling synths that kick in during the refrain break apart the ambience of the verses nicely. The song also has a rather solid structure to it and progresses quite well, with some electronic flourishes being introduced in the second verse and some added electronic drums during the bridge that, overall, make the track feel fleshed-out somewhat successfully, albeit slightly predictably. Some of the vocal effects on this cut, however, are a bit over-indulgent to the point of irritation at certain points, particularly on the line, “Kill your rock ‘n roll, motherfuckin’ hip-hop sound”, during which the vocals in the right ear are pitch-shifted up only to plummet down to a lower tone, essentially sounding like a feature resulting from a bored sound engineer. I should probably also touch on the quality of Coyne’s lyrics, which have continued to underwhelm me, often feeling goofy and nonsensical for the sake of being goofy and nonsensical. I suppose the best I could say about the lyrical content of Oczy Mlody is that the wacky and somewhat eccentric lyrics fit within the aesthetic idiom that the band seem to be going for here, so the resulting absurdity is arguably excusable for the most part.
The conflation of some of the band’s long-established psychedelic pop sensibilities with the electronic and ambient stylings keenly worked in by Coyne come off well on the track Nidgy Nie (Never No). Whilst this track’s bassy beat feels a little tired and safe for the sound the band are trying to achieve, what makes this cut stand out to me is the fantastic bridge, featuring a wobbly bass solo atop a slightly funky beat with some fluttering synths for detail. Here, the inclusion of timbre outside of just electronic instrumentation pays of well and is worked in well with the synthetic sounds, resulting in one of the best moments on the record, despite how fleeting it is. Another example of this is on Listening to the Frogs With Demon Eyes, an ambitious seven and a half minute-long cut that surprisingly goes down as one of the best moments on the record. Again, this track also features some nice bass licks that pair well with the electronics, and the sections for which an electric guitar is featured at the forefront of the instrumentation are refreshing.
The Castle is a track that continues to leave me with mixed feelings, and many of my mixed feelings about this one track apply to the record at large. The ambient and spacey vibe to this track sounds really quite radiant, but this aesthetic is somewhat overshadowed by the questionable synthetic drums on the verses here. The kick drum is so swamped in bass that it dominates the track unnecessarily and can be quite jarring to listen to. The fact that this drum stops during the chorus of this song only emphasises this fact, and I felt like I had to brace myself for the re-introduction of the kick whenever I sensed the next verse approaching.
Lastly, I should touch on the closing track, We a Family, seeing as it does feature the most recent collaboration between The Flaming Lips and Miley Cyrus. I find it to be a largely innocuous track, with Cyrus’ performance being more subtle than I expected and is better for it. Coyne’s slightly auto-tuned vocals, however, feel unnecessary and distract from some of the nice electronic embellishments across the song. The refrain on this track feels somewhat childish in its simplicity, and not in a particularly endearing fashion, but it feels like it was imagined as a closing track when it was being written, so the less conventional structure is perhaps slightly more justified.
Whilst Oczy Mlody has many glaring issues and leaves me with mixed feelings, upon every listen of this record thus far, I have been left feeling more positive about it than negative. This is largely due to the solid aesthetic of the project, and I feel that this album is perhaps best enjoyed if put on in the background, or if you try to enjoy the spacey sounds, ambient air and electronic embellishments without thinking of the technicalities of song structure and writing. Admittedly, that does sound like a rather backhanded compliment, but the general vibe of this record is its major strongpoint, and I can see that being the salient selling-point for some people.
The Vinyl Verdict: 6/10