Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v06n23)
Rick On The Records - by Rick Zeigler
posted: Nov. 13, 2009
Embryonic, The Flaming Lips' twelfth album, and first double-album, is very appropriately titled. This is because a majority of the songs come across as not quite fully formed and as willfully experimental. Lips' leader Wayne Coyne, when discussing Embryonic, has frequently mentioned the Beatles "White Album," and how glad he is that it was never trimmed to a single disc, for then songs like Revolution #9 would have been left off. True enough, but while that album did see the employment of plenty of song snippets and experimentation to great effect, the core of the album was formed by an incredibly large batch of superior songs (e.g., "Julia," "Back In The USSR," Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," etc., etc). Unfortunately, Embryonic cannot boast of a similar core. Instead, this nearly 80-minute opus is almost wholly composed of song "snippets" and, well, embryos of songs. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this. But it can become a trying and, ultimately, disconcerting listening experience as one waits over long stretches of time for a gorgeous melody or memorable riff to emerge. And when such do emerge, they are usually endlessly repeated rather than encapsulated in a larger structure. With no weepy ballads, catchy pop-rockers, or even memorable vocal turns (unless you count Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeah's making a variety of animal noises upon request), the listener is instead left with loads of skronky guitars, pounding, frenetic percussion, and echoey, dark and distant vocalizations. Occasionally, this approach does yield a moving, musical passage ("The Ego's Last Stand"), but, more commonly, the results are songs that employ sound effects in place of structure or development. For instance, while "Evil" starts off like a lovely ballad, with Coyne intoning, "I wish I could go back/Back in time," the song never develops from this beginning over its 5-plus minutes in length. Similarly, "Gemini Syringes" starts promisingly with a simple bass line and celeste-like keys but, again, does not move forward. If your tastes veer toward the experimental and abstract, then Embryonic may well be your cup of tea. But for this listener, the album, while occasionally fascinating, is more frequently disappointing, and, even worse, boring.
Fanfarlo has been dubbed the "British Arcade Fire" due to their proclivity for sculpting mini-epics, replete with horns, woodwinds, and strings, using an indie-rock template. The accolade is well deserved, but, on the evidence of their debut album, this five-piece can stand on its own. And unlike Arcade Fire, Fanfarlo does not go in for the oft-overused soft/loud/soft/loud structure. Rather, its ambitious, multi-layered pop symphonies rest on Simon Balthazar's David Byrne-like vocals alongside the band's many majestic (and frequently folk-based) melodies. Piano is often to the forefront, as on the stomping opener "I'm A Pilot". The martial beat of that first track then gives way to a horn-driven Motown groove on "Ghosts". "Luna" is propelled along by a swift beat, a gorgeous verse and chorus and, midway through, a beautiful slow passage with horns and woodwinds. "The Walls Are Coming Down" features a French horn/ukelele combination (!!) to charming effect, while the brushed snare, soft horns, and strings of "If It Is Growing" accompanies one of the band's best melodies. The album goes on like this, mixing and matching instruments and melody lines as if it is seemingly second nature for this band never to produce a duff track. All in all, Reservoir is a summery, uplifting, and sometimes overwhelming treat of a debut.
Rick Zeigler, along with his wife, Jeanne, owns Indy CD and Vinyl at 806 Broad Ripple Avenue. Back in his musician days, his band opened for the likes of U2, XTC, Gang Of Four, The Pretenders, Los Lobos, and, um, Flock Of Seagulls, among others. You can read all of Rick's reviews at www.indycdandvinyl.com. Email your music questions and comments to rick@BroadRippleGazette.com