In Review: The Flaming Lips - American Head

A close-to-home reflection on youth and ageing, American Head sees psychedelic mainstays Flaming Lips grounded in introspection, and it holds up against any of their previous astral canon.
Posted: 25 September 2020 Words: Alex Orr

Psychedelic stalwarts The Flaming Lips are now on album number sixteen with American Head, showing no signs of slowing down following 2019’s King’s Mouth. Whilst the latter release offered huge, psych-operatic journeys into space, American Head is much more grounded, crafting a nostalgic and melancholic soundscape that hits much closer to home than their previous releases. This change in direction may lead some to think the band could lose what has defined much of their back catalogue, but what results is a deeply personal, introspective concept record that is as whacky as it is centred.

A suitably trippy music video accompanies album opener ‘Will You Return/When You Come Down’, a beautiful mind-melting soliloquy on yearning and childhood. It’s a stunning opener and one of the best stand-alone tracks the band have produced, offering a glimpse of positivity within the melancholy associated with revisiting old memories. This theme sits in the nucleus the album orbits at a leisurely pace around and offers a different type of listening experience than your typical Flaming Lips record.

Lead single ‘Flowers of Neptune 6’ follows suit, featuring country singer Kacey Musgraves on backing vocals. It begins as a subdued, hypnotic slice of psych-folk before exponentially expanding into a grandiose, orchestral crescendo powered by entrancing guitars and ethereal vocals. As frontman Wayne Coyne laments “Oh my God” over the chorus you really get a sense of finality – a mature reflection on youth. ‘Mother I’ve Taken LSD’ details a mind-unlocking experience with LSD that results in a renewed and negative outlook on the world amidst swirling synth melodies, whilst ‘Brother Eye’ is a sorrowful look at loss propelled by candid, gut-wrenching lyrics on the loss of a sibling.

Whilst the lyrics are definitely the star in this Flaming Lips production, the creative arrangements of the rest of the band shouldn’t be understated. Sonic soundscapes that hit the emotional mark perfectly are abundant - ‘You n Me Sellin’ Weed’s is given an intimate atmosphere through the use of inhalations and exhalations, cow mooing and spaceship affects (an admittedly odd sentence to type), feeling like a condensed, sonic history of Flaming Lips. ‘God and the Policeman’ uses raindrops and xylophones alongside an album highlight appearance from Kacey Musgraves to build a sense of innocence with sinister undertones.

One minor issue with the album lies in its pacing. This is an almost unavoidable pitfall of creating a more stripped-back and vulnerable record, and leads to a lost-in-the-shuffle effect for some of the mid-album songs like ‘At the Movies on Quaaludes’ and ‘Dinosaurs on the Mountain’. This view is missing the point of the album though – it’s written to be listened to as a whole, rather than individually, and when listened to in one sitting I’d put American Head up against any previous Flaming Lips record.

American Head is out now on Bella Union

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