The sudden shift in the post-millennial musical environment has caused many industry vets to strategize new methods of survival and adaptation. Yet, at the end of the last decade, the Flaming Lips made an album too dark to be compatible with their life-affirming live show (Embryonic) and released a decade-in-the-making art film (Christmas on Mars) that even their most dedicated fans can’t seem to decipher. It seemed like they were prepping for extinction. Since then, they’ve found their own path by becoming something of a collector’s band; covering other people’s albums, repackaging their own discography in various forms, encasing tons of shit in gummy, and releasing super-limited edition psychedelic vinyl with a variety of unlikely compatriots.
Lightning Bolt, on the other hand, enjoyed some early naughts buzz and continued being primal, super loud, and intensely eccentric into the present day, releasing the occasional album or side project (Wizardzz, Black Pus, Mindflayer) and probably playing the same basement venues they’d always performed in for 10 or so years.
What the two groups share is a proclivity for volume, with a specific flare for the overblown. Both Lightning Bolt and habitual Lips producer David Fridmann like to fry the decks, resulting in mixes that play louder than the average album at normal volume levels and kind of clippy and shitty at massive volumes. It’s an aesthetic that’s no less deliberate than hypnagogic pop’s warbled tape, but it’s one that doesn’t just emulate busted headphones. It actually will destroy your speakers if you’re not careful.
The Flaming Lips With Lightning Bolt is a four song EP with two songs and two re-imaginings of these tunes of the flip. “I’m Working At NASA On Acid” (which has nothing to do with the early infamous ‘90s club night held by Scotto at The Shelter) is the proper prog-rock opus of the album, a three part suite involving a man at the decks pressing “the wrong buttons”, the ill-fated liftoff, and the mournful aftermath. The track has a bit of the gritty Morricone dread that informs a great deal of the Forest Swords output with Lips Frontman Wayne Coyne at his most grimly existential as he soberly weighs the gravity of lines like, “I man the control/ And I am trying to control/ Oh, something that can never be controlled”.
“I Want to Get High But I Don’t Want Brain Damage” then is the stoopid antidote to the opener’s anti-drug sci-fi PSA, a grinding noisy boogie of chunky bass riffage and atonal guitar squeals that repeats the title ad nauseum. Unabashed fun in salute to killing brain cells to counteract the opener’s heady sorrow. The final two cuts are the most experimental of the batch, total freakouts that give the guitarist and drummer some respectively. Though relatively amusing, these sound like first take tack-ons, ventures into formlessness that have seen much better results elsewhere in each of the bands’ respective catalogues. It’s a shame that the two groups couldn’t have spent their time more wisely, but with the music industry falling apart around them, it’s possible they just wanted to get a little brain damaged.