[19 June 2014]
Typically, when associating lengthier pieces of music, one looks no further than classical music. With any number of extended works (operas and symphonies), classical music is known for its extended works and long-windedness. Rock bands, even experimental ones, typically don’t produce works that last hours upon hours, let alone 24 hours. That said, classical composers aren’t usually that prolific, at least constrained to one piece of music. The Flaming Lips, a veteran experimental-rock band known for their ‘ambitiousness’, created a day-long composition entitled “7 Skies H3” in 2011. Definitely a novelty, three years later, “7 Skies H3” arrived for Record Store Day divided into 10 tracks, clocking in at a manageable 50 minutes. 7 Skies H3, like the majority of the Flaming Lips albums, “beats to its own drum”. Fans and experimental rock enthusiasts wouldn’t have it any other way.
The album opens with a stunning, mysterious ballad, “7 Skies H3 (Can’t Shut Off My Head)”. Guitars establish the harmonic scheme of the song while synths and sound effects provide extra color. Vocally, Wayne Coyne takes a tenderer, haunting approach vocally, never forcing things. The restraint certainly contrasts the noisier, more raucous side of the band, but it works sensationally in this instance. Continuing to excerpt the original composition, “Meepy Morp” is a minimalist instrumental cut, exemplifying the Flaming Lips’ predictably unpredictable music. Containing the anticipated noisy, distorted sounds, “Meepy Morp” – like the opener – possesses a beauty about it. The radiance does become compromised towards the end, as the noise gradually supplants the melodic minimalism. “Battling Voices From Beyond” lives up to its title, sounding like nothing short of a music war cry, driven by choral vocals, sound effects, and namely the pounding orchestral timpani. “Battling Voices From Beyond” gives the band a “balls to the walls” track.
“In a Dream” offers limited lyrics, in regards to quantity as opposed to quality. Initiating with a moody thunderstorm, “In a Dream” eventually settles into a driving, yet relatively relaxed groove. Again feeling organic and unforced, “In a Dream” certainly sounds as if it is a tone poem – an experimental-rock tone poem that is “Metamorphosis” plays a similar game, delivering five-and-a-half minutes of contrasting, spacey sounds. Consisting of a rich palette, “Metamorphosis” does indeed change, appealing not only to more abstract listeners, but also paying ode to twentieth century classical music. “Requiem” definitely lives up to its morbid title, with Coyne’s easygoing vocals haunting against the set’s most harmonically unpredictable backdrop. Although dark and foreboding, “Requiem” is certainly a standout among the ten divisions of 7 Skies H3.
“Meepy Morp (Reprise)” ends up being much creepier than the original, taking on a harsher, less conventional sound. It remains minimalist, but gone is the truly beautiful melody the original possessed. The reprisal is the perfect foreshadow to “Riot in My Brain!!”, a cut that very much represents the ambitious, cacophonous the Flaming Lips among their best. Definitely an adrenaline rush, “Riot in My Brain!!” sounds like a truly horrid acid experience for lack of a better description. Penultimate cut “7 Skies H3 (Main Theme)” highlights the beautiful melodies from the opener in even more gorgeously, thanks to the orchestral treatment. Even so, towards the end of the instrumental, things turn darker, harsher, and more enigmatic Closer “Can’t Let It Go”, like a well-rounded classical work, references previous cues, namely the memorable synth line from the opener. Sure the band prolongs things here, but at least it’s good stuff.
Ultimately, 7 Skies H3 is another strangely alluring addition to the Flaming Lips truly bizarre discography. Arguably less accessible and enjoyable than The Terror was, 7 Skies H3 still impresses tremendously. Always pushing the envelope doing things ‘their own way’, the Flaming Lips actually seem more innovative and fresher compared to any number of contemporary artists. 7 Skies H3 doesn’t make the band anywhere near the commercial realm or anything like that, but they’d be selling out if that were to happen, right?