What is the light?
January 11, 2012 7:07 PM   Subscribe

Here is a very good 8-part documentary about the making of The Flaming Lips' album The Soft Bulletin. Some time after their appearance on Beverly Hills: 90210, some time before releasing new music embedded in edible gummy material of various shapes (and flavors), the album was released to near-unanimous critical acclaim. The FLips, previously on MeFi.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas (20 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Cool! Everyone I know loves this album, I've never quite gotten it. Maybe this will help.

All in all, I can't seem to figure the appeal of their music, but I've seen them several times at festivals and they are fascinating, fun performers. I sat through two performances and realized I was so into watching them, I had almost forgotten about the music.

Also, Wayne Coyne is a mad genius and was caught on Google maps on the side of the road in a bathtub.
posted by nevercalm at 7:12 PM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I guess this is as good a place as any to post a link to the Flaming Lips covering I Am The Walrus.

Also, Wayne Coyne looking impossibly young: She Don't Use Jelly
posted by gwint at 7:17 PM on January 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Hey, thanks for posting this. I've been to busy to pay attention to the internet lately and I might have missed it. I'm a big fan of the lips and I'm pretty sure they broke my brain the first time I saw 'em in '92.
posted by sleepy pete at 7:59 PM on January 11, 2012

Agreeing that it is very good, even if you don't really like the album (I like the Lips but the album has never clicked with me the way it has for many people).
posted by neuromodulator at 8:10 PM on January 11, 2012

That was enjoyable, thanks!

Also not totally not worth watching is this (also available on Netflix instant): The Fearless Freaks.

One thing I really admire about the lips is how totally bare they lay themselves in interviews. It's kind of astonishing.

I still love The Soft Bulletin too.

And oh! Look at this! They'll be performing it in its entirety this February at San Francisco's Noise Pop festival.
posted by ericost at 8:18 PM on January 11, 2012

The full title of the song was just revalatory: "What Is the Light?" ("An Untested Hypothesis Suggesting That the Chemical [In Our Brains] by Which We Are Able to Experience the Sensation of Being in Love Is the Same Chemical That Caused the "Big Bang" That Was the Birth of the Accelerating Universe")

It's as true as anything needs to be.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:14 PM on January 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Heard them first covering "After the Gold Rush" on a 1989 Neil Young tribute album. Still prefer the early stuff.

Also had a Zaireeka naked party.

No I didn't.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:31 PM on January 11, 2012

"I could be just standing around holding a trumpet, and not even really play it"

I love Wayne Coyne.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 9:32 PM on January 11, 2012

gwint: "I guess this is as good a place as any to post a link to the Flaming Lips covering I Am The Walrus."

They did Walrus and Strawberry Fields at the New Year's Eve concert; since the Plastic Ono Band was there as well, I expected them to play it live, but I was unprepared for how moving it would be. From where we were standing, we could see Sean and Yoko backstage watching the band perform. Sean and Yoko even joined them onstage to do War is Over which was cool, and since Sean was using a cheat sheet for the lyrics, I'm guessing that was kind of a last minute decision.
As if the show wasn't already over the top awesome, they also did What is the Light and The Observer, which is a pretty cool experience hearing live. Hands down the best concert experience I've ever had, even better than last year's NYE show when they performed SB in its entirety.
posted by Dr. Zira at 9:39 PM on January 11, 2012

Their singer sounds like Kermit the frog. Not good.
posted by dydecker at 10:28 PM on January 11, 2012

Yeah he certainly has a style. I think of the the flaming lips as some sort of mashup,some dude singing alone in his car or something and some band is off playing some stuff and then later someone smushed them together. They certainly make is vocals extremely prominent as well, if you watch some live videos his vocals are louder than the instruments . He really is pretty effective sometimes though.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:50 PM on January 11, 2012

I think I figured out why it always sounds that way. He seems like he is singing in a really soft intimate way, and he sounds really close to the mic, in some songs you can hear him blowing into the mic on certain sounds yet volume is jacked up so he is as loud as this orchestra he is supposed to be singing with.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:56 PM on January 11, 2012

For people who can't get into Mr. Coyne's regular singing voice (I was once totally with you on this and sometimes still am), I definitely recommend you check out their latest LP, Embryonic. For most of the album, he sings in a very different style, much lower, much less whimsical. Plus that album is certifiably INSANE. It sounds like a condensed shot of all of the most revolutionary early electronic and rock bands at once. I mean, like, if the Silver Apples were 25 years old today and somehow even freakier, and they teamed up with Pink Floyd circa A Saucer Full of Secrets, and Roky Erickson, and they all gathered together in a cave grooving with a pict, this album would crawl out looking like the insect urethra typewriter in Cronenberg's Naked Lunch.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 11:23 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've always thought that any song that is good should be able to be broken down to its basic elements and still be an effective song. I think that Iron and Wine showed that in their version of Waiting for a Superman that The Flaming Lips know how to write a good song.

I like the Flaming Lips. It's been kind of odd to see their treatment here in Oklahoma. They have an alley downtown named after them, and "Do You Realize??" is the Official Rock Song by executive order.

Many people here in Oklahoma think that they're overrated, since they're one of the very few local bands that receive outside criticism. I just like them.
posted by Quonab at 11:29 PM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


...is the total Godhead beauty.

God Bless the Flaming Lips, long may they continue to play loud joyful beauteous sound and song....
posted by Skygazer at 11:39 PM on January 11, 2012

The Lips had a fantastic run of albums from Transmissions from the Satellite Heart through Yoshimi. I feel like their music since then has lacked focus and a sense of urgency, like it's become secondary to who they are as a band.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 4:08 AM on January 12, 2012

Great stuff. Now do one for In A Priest Driven Ambulance please.
posted by whuppy at 7:03 AM on January 12, 2012

Thanks for this. I was an unabashed fan of The Soft Bulletin, but it is really uneven. I don't think I've ever faced such united opposition as when I was playing that album on a road trip; "The Spiderbite Song" came on and a vanful of people told me to TURN THAT FUCKING CRAP OFF NOW.
posted by psoas at 7:16 AM on January 12, 2012

Coyne's voice has really grown on me. At first it reminded me, and not in a good way, of bros in college trying to sing like Neil Young.

Also not totally not worth watching is this (also available on Netflix instant): The Fearless Freaks.

I assume you meant WORTH watching? The stoner '70s pickup football game footage alone is worth the whole thing. It's also free on Hulu.
posted by thelonius at 7:54 AM on January 12, 2012

Oh, man, ultraviolet catastrophe, I'm glad you posted that.

I'm glad because I'm a Lips fan who really didn't like At War with the Mystics. I must have listened to it only about four times at most, which to be fair I don't consider enough to form a fair judgment, but I just couldn't bring myself to give it any more spins. I strongly disliked it, which was of course a bummer.

And Embryonic came out and I didn't pay much attention. But one day I was reading Pitchfork and they had one of those guest lists that they do, where other artists write about what they're really into. And I can't remember who the artist was, but they basically wrote the paragraph above this one about AWwtM. But then they followed it with another paragraph of gushing praise for Embryonic, about how good it is, about how much it surprised them after AWwtM, about how their band would listen to it more than anything in their van while on tour because it was full of interesting little nooks and crannies.

And I bought it, and goddamn it they were right. I actually think Embryonic is their best album. I adore it. I'm not always in the mood for it, but when I am it just stomps over everything else. It's also notable (for me), and this is not to be undervalued, for being the only example I can think of where a band's quality is not described by an arc (or a plummet off a cliff). That is, every time a band I love releases a weaker album, they never come back up. Once you're going down, that's it. Until the Lips and Embryonic, which subverted that, and restored a tremendous amount of hope to me. I'm talking on like a deep level here - things can get better. Artistic voices can rise after stumbles. That's tremendous.

And I'm glad you posted that, although probably your mind is made up and you aren't going to revise your opinion, which hey fair enough. But I'm glad because maybe this is my chance to pay forward that Pitchfork write-up that got me to listen to an album I thought I wasn't interested in, that got me excited by a band that I thought was "past their peak", that made me realize that "past their peak" isn't even an actual thing.

Some favorites from Embryonic:

The Ego's Last Stand
Worm Mountain
Watching the Planets (youtube, SFW) Watching the Planets (vimeo, NSFW)
posted by neuromodulator at 8:21 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

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