The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody

The Flaming Lips are a curious beast and their latest offering, 14th studio album Oczy Mlody, is no exception. Named after a phrase found in an old Polish paperback that frontman Wayne Coyne discovered in a second hand bookshop, the album follows a loose concept that is embraced in the icy, primarily electronic, sound palette. Work on the album started with the title track, a dreamy, sleepy instrumental that Wayne was never quite able to fix lyrics to. 'Oczy Mlody' roughly translates as 'eyes of the young', but it is also the misheard, ill pronounced interpretations of the phrase which inspired the band down this path. With 'Oczy' conjuring up Oxycodone, a pharmaceutical pain-killing opioid, often used as a heroin substitute, and 'Mlody' representing the mournful musical melodies which the band have become famous for.

In their press release for the album Wayne Coyne tells us that he feels the sound of the record lies somewhere between Syd Barrett and A$AP Rocky. It's the sort of combination of references that sounds like it has been cooked up to infuriate and baffle. As if Wayne has pulled two disparate artists out of a hat merely to suggest how broad a scope the music embraces. On closer inspection it seems to be a stunningly accurate description of the sound the band have produced. The psychedelic whimsy of the Pink Floyd founding member married to the icy synthetic sounds of minimalist hip-hop. An odd paring that makes for strangely compelling listening.

On my first listen through I have to admit I found the combination a little irritating, and certainly alienating from what I am used to as a listener. Coyne touched upon this too in the press release – noting their would be little crossover between A$AP Rocky fans and the sort of people who embrace Syd Barrett's strange world. However, from my second listen onwards, armed with a little more knowledge of the concept underpinning the record, I felt like it began to reveal itself to me, unfolding layers I had not spotted within the subtle minimalism of the arrangements. Oczy Mlody is reimagined as a wonder-drug which people use to treat all manner of maladies and it works by putting people to sleep. As Coyne puts it, So if you want to lose weight.. Ping!! You are put to sleep for three months and you wake up thin.. If you are addicted to drugs.. Ping!! You sleep yourself out of withdrawals and cravings and wake up sober.”

But the drug is being used recreationally by the super-rich in gated communities, for in their sleep it sends people back into childhood memories and fantasies filled with unicorns, frogs and spiders! That makes it sound like it’s all going to be utterly bonkers and nonsensical but what is striking is how seeped in darkness and melancholy the album is – which seems to me to be a true representation of a drugs scene. For behind every person who ever wanted to lose themselves in psychedelics there tends to be the story of what they are trying to escape from. Oczy Mlody is a very emotional album, for all its synthetics, as it explores the sadness unveiled by explorations into this strange drug. I’m the sort of person who finds Bon Iver’s use of auto-tune-based vocal effects a bit of a barrier to accessing the emotional core of his music but, weirdly, these stories of fairies and wizards seem to resonate very deeply in spite, or perhaps, because of their use of childlike imagery. Coyne’s voice helps to bring this home too, it’s very fragile and delicate. So slight it often makes the pitch-correction software work in over time to figure out where he is and where he ought to be, causing more fragmentary glitches and digital artefacts to distort the vocal – making him often sound vulnerable and far-away.

As the fictional drug ‘Oczy Mlody’ sends people to sleep for three months it’s no surprise the album starts off at a slow pace. Although it remains minimal throughout, mostly stark electronic beats, rumbling synth bass and crystaline pads, it does begin to pick up from around the mid-point. ‘How??’ is an early highlight, with epic anthemic melodies that could be overlooked when you’re used to big acoustic drums steering the dynamics. There’s an ascending melody and distorted vocal line that could sound perfectly at home on a Sigur Ros record. ‘There Should Be Unicorns’ is another early gem, utilising musician/comedian Reggie Watts to great effect at the end by re-calling Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’. The lyrics throughout list requirements for an insane party, with Coyne’s delivery being so ethereal it’s almost intangible. The track really comes into its own when Watts, aping Scott-Heron’s delivery in a dead-pan voice-over style, takes the track home, talking about the right sort of unicorns, keeping the sun almost-setting for three hours, and giving any police who turn up to stop the party “so much money that they can retire from their shitty, violent jobs and live the greatest life they've ever lived”!

‘One Night While Hunting For Faeries and Witches and Wizards To Kill’ is a long, slow-burning track, but it seems to be the point where things start to build up from the slumber that opens the album. The tension slowly rises as subtle layers work their way in, with synths and guitars and a heavily processed harp sound punctuating the space. It never quite boils over, but there’s a momentum shift which leads us towards the end of the album. ‘The Castle’, released as a single, sounds so much fuller and more realised in the context of the album than it did when I first listened to it. It’s got that strong sad melody, Coyne’s vulnerable vocal delivery and pretty psychedelics, notably a glitchy arpeggio line that lend it a magical other-worldly air. It’s classic Flaming Lips, in spite of the new sounds they’ve embraced, you can hear this slotting nicely into their cannon of ‘hits’.

Miley Cyrus has become an oddly unexpected Flaming Lips associate – she collaborated with the band on their full-album cover of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (The Flaming Lips version is titled With A Little Help From My Fwends and is part of a series of collaborative albums the band have made). From the looks of things they became fast friends, with The Flaming Lips backing Miley on her last album and on tour. She appears on the album closer ‘We A Famly’ with a slurred vocal delivery that’s about as far away from the Disney pop-starlet’s origins as you could get. It’s not going to be news to anyone that Miley spent the last few years courting controversy and making every effort to do the unexpected, with frequently cringe-worthy results. It’s strange then that her work with The Flaming Lips seems so natural. I’m pretty sure the reports today, that Miley sends Wayne selfies of herself peeing, is just a bit of click-bait fodder for the press – a cynical slice of scandal conveniently dropped on the album release day. But you get the sense that musically The Flaming Lips’ childish whimsy, with serious emotions, hits the perfect note for the former child-star.

Oczy Mlody is unlikely to be a huge record to be honest, it takes a little bit of effort to get into at first, it deliberately mixes styles and ideas together because they make odd bedfellows but, at the same time it’s a joy and a triumph, certain to be considered a highlight in what’s becoming quite a massive discography. It’s the sort of album where it helps to have some quiet and solitude to immerse yourself but, I imagine, once you’ve fallen for it, it’s the sort of album you could slap on a pair of headphones on the bus and be transported to a far-away land full of magical wonder and icy melancholy.
Adam Kidd

Website: flaminglips.com
Facebook: facebook.com/flaminglips
Twitter: twitter.com/theflaminglips

 

Placebo – Brighton Centre – 14th December 2016

 

When I heard Placebo were coming to town on their 20th anniversary world tour I knew I had to go. I remembered them bursting onto my MTV2 screen in the mid 90s with their striking style and sound. Admittedly there was nothing completely new about what they were doing: Brian Molko's eye makeup and nail varnish set him somewhere between glam and goth, but it was nothing revolutionary. I spent a lot of my late teens in guy-liner! Their alternative rock sound had a jagged razor-sharp edge to it but, again, sitting somewhere between Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, it didn't seem to be breaking much new ground. What they did have, at that crucial time, were a number of great songs: anthems for alienated, disaffected youth that resonated lyrically and visually with a mass of folks who identified as outsiders.

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Ash – The Roundhouse, London – 10th December 2016

The music industry has begun to resemble an echo chamber fuelled purely by nostalgia. The announcement last week that, compared to a year ago, vinyl has outsold digital downloads for the first time since the two formats were set against each other, did not illicit the cries of joy you might expect. My social media feeds were not full of rejoicing praise for the return of physical formats – everyone seemed cynically and somewhat painfully, aware that the vinyl record sales were being driven by supermarkets like Sainsbury’s and Tesco beginning to stock huge pop acts and classic reissues. As a creator and supporter of new music the outlook isn't great, but there is one form the nostalgia circus takes which I have found hard to resist on a number of occasions: live anniversary renditions of albums I loved in my youth.

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Laish – Interview – 2016

Laish is the song-writing project of Danny Green, a sensitive, introspective singer-songwriter, now based in London, who we’ve been following for some time at Brightonsfinest. Formed in 2008, while he was also drumming for Sons of Noel and Adrian, Green’s band quickly became part of the much-feted Willkommen Collective, at the centre of Brighton’s alternative folk scene. Having released a couple of albums, recorded at home, Laish were off, with great support from BBC Radio and a live show that took him as far afield as India and Israel. The latest Laish album, Pendulum Swing, recently released in November 2016, was partially crowdfunded and the first recorded in a professional studio. It’s a triumph of a record which seems to be catapulting the group to new heights, with a really positive critical reception. I asked Danny a few questions to find out more…

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Birdeatsbaby – Interview – 2016

Birdeatsbaby are one of Brighton’s most outward looking groups having, from the very early days, skilfully used the internet to get their music out to a wider audience. Heavily stylised YouTube music videos and, more recently, funding platforms like Patreon, have helped them to reach and unite fans on the cultural fringe. As their sound has shifted from the dark cabaret of their roots to a more progressive, heavy rock style they’ve grown a self-sustaining following that sees them able to tour around the globe. Shortly after the release of their fourth LP TANTA FURIA, and at the end of another European jaunt I fired off a few quick questions to lead-singer and defacto head-honcho Mishkin Fitzgerald to see how they’re getting on.

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Gengahr – Green Door Store – 21st November 2016

It was great to see Gengahr back in Brighton again, just over a year after they kicked off their first UK tour at the Komedia. Without any new material online to tease fans ahead of these shows, and after quite a long period of radio silence, I did find myself wondering what sort of a crowd the guys were going to be able to pull tonight. I needn't have been concerned though, it seems that during their absence word-of-mouth has continued to travel about Gengahr. While they took to the Green Door Store's stage for an extended line check of their instruments the room filled up with young, beaming faces and we prepared to settle in for a night of groovy, dreamy guitar pop.

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TOY – The Haunt – 19th November 2016

It was my first time seeing TOY, which seems strange considering they’ve mostly come from Brighton, with some of the guys even going to the same school as me (although a few years after my time there). It was only through reading our recent Spotlight interview with the band that I made the connection with Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong, who I had seen before they really got going, in a dingy shoebox venue in Shoreditch. TOY are instantly recognisable though, dressed like mannequins for the display window of Beyond Retro or To Be Worn Again. Their music is couched in similar terms; a carefully curated cross-section of retro and more modern elements fused together into a satisfying whole. 60s revivalism, often propelled by kraut-rock beats and soaked in wall-of-noise distortions and ambience that go a little beyond punk, perhaps most recalling the work of their early tour mates The Horrors, who gave them a bit of a leg up by inviting them on the road.

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Catskills Records: 20 Years of Victory!

It’s hard to believe that the Brighton and London-based label is actually 20-years-old: doesn’t time fly. To celebrate this milestone anniversary they have released a compilation of some of the best tracks to have passed through their doors over the years. Catskills Records: 20 Years of Victory is available in beautifully designed triple-gatefold coloured vinyl, a double CD digipack that resembles a book and a digital download that includes added bonus tracks. The 23 Catskills greats they’ve selected for the compilation take you on a bit of a journey through the label’s history, from the ambient track that kicked it all off, ‘Indian Motorcycles’ by Sonorous Star (featuring label founders Khalid and Amr Mallassi), to dance-floor fillers like ‘Drop’ by Bushy and plenty in-between from artists like Featurecast, Black Grass, Pepe Deluxe, Husky Rescue and more. This rhythmical collection shows off the diversity of Catskill’s interests – sticking more often to sample-based sounds, rather than pure electronic, it traverses many-a-genre on its guided tour through the last couple of decades: everything from hip-hop, funk and break-beat to reggae, punk and even prog rock gets a look in.

The compilation also includes two new exclusive cuts: the frankly bonkers ‘Go, Girls, Go!’ by Pepe Deluxe, which sounds almost like a cross between Deerhoof and The Go! Team, and compilation closer ‘My Shelter’ with a modern ambient electronic sound that borders on anthemic. The album sleeve features artwork by Ante Kemppainen, who is known for designing a lot of the Angry Birds game. It features cartoony cat characters but done in the painterly style that’s reminiscent of a Star Wars poster.

Catskills were one of the victims of the famous warehouse fire in 2011 which took out an awful lot of vinyl, making this the only place some of the tracks on this compilation can be bought now. The vinyl contains a surprise bonus track from Pepe Deluxe’s ‘That Track!’, that’s not been available since its first pressing in 1999 sold out.

To coincide with the release Catskills will be holding a weekend of parties in Brighton and London to launch the album, with guest DJs and free entry on both nights you’d be a fool to miss them. If you’re in Brighton head to the Dead Wax Social even on Friday 25 November where DJs will include Pepe Deluxe, Husky Rescue, Black Grass, Hardkandy, Sonorous Star, Jonny Reggae and Professor. In London on Saturday the Catskills crew will be taking over Mick’s Garage with the core of Pepe Deluxe, Husky Rescue, Black Grass, Sonorous Star and Jonny Reggae joined by Carl Faure.

So here’s to Catskills Records; raise your glasses and celebrate another one of the great musical institutions to have Brighton origins. With their penchant for mixing things up and keeping us guessing who knows what the next 20 years will have in store. One thing you can guarantee: it’s bound to get your heads nodding!

Website: catskillsmusic.com
Facebook: facebook.com/catskillsrecords
Twitter: twitter.com/CatskillsMusic

 

 

 

Birdeatsbaby – TANTA FURIA

Birdeatsbaby almost managed to sneak their fourth album TANTA FURIA beneath our local new music radar, which isn’t so surprising when you consider how outward looking the band have grown: setting their sights on distant shores in Europe and the Americas. I think it would be fair to call them a cult band, with their own group of loyal and dedicated followers, aptly named The Flock, whose support through crowd-funding services such as Patreon has been indispensable in helping them to achieve their goals. It can’t hurt that the proprietor of their recording studio of choice (Audiobeach) joined the band just prior to completing their last album, 2014’s The Bullet Within. Multi instrumentalist and Co-producer, Forbes Coleman, has helped founder and band leader Mishkin Fitzgerald to realise an increasingly bold vision of the band’s sound. TANTA FURIA, which translates as ‘lots of fury’, picks up where Bullet left off and widens the scope even further. Where once the band exhibited a punk-cabaret rawness, now their sound is more polished and sophisticated but as diverse as ever. The overlying themes and aesthetic remains the same: dark, Gothic, macabre, theatrical; but the sound has expanded far beyond the faithful-to-the-live-band efforts of yore. The current line-up – Fitzgerald and Coleman joined by guitarist/bassist Garry Mitchell and violinist Hana Maria (aka Hana Pirhana) – is easily the strongest in the bands history, and, on this album they’ve had the opportunity to stretch their skills and play to their strengths. Birdeatsbaby have historically been a band whose key melodic instruments were the violin and the piano, with the bass and drums forming the rhythm section beneath. On this album we see the electric guitar playing a much bigger role than ever before, with wailing lead lines and heavy-as-fuck rhythm parts that do more than just stray into metal territory.

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Fujiya & Miyagi – The Haunt – 12th November 2016

Tonight, from the outside, The Haunt looked like a deserted shipwreck as I walked up to the door through barely parted security fences. I was wondering if I had come to the right place, but, stepping through the double doors into the venue space I was relieved to feel the warmth of the gathering crowd as I caught the tail-end of Lost Idol’s set. The room was full of another warmth too, the pleasant tones of clever, digitally-produced analogue synth sounds. Lost Idol whipped out a miniature megaphone, to add distorted vocals to the end of a great sounding tune, and I made a mental note to check out some more of his stuff as soon as I get the opportunity.

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