The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Tuesday, October 13, 2009 - 5
The Lips freak out
Palming the classics
Wayne Coyne and
co. go wild over the
course of two discs
By JOSH BAYER
Daily Music Editor
In the words of Flaming Lips uber-
man Wayne Coyne: "Somewhere
along the way it
occurred to me that **
we should do a dou-
ble album ... Just The'
this -idea that you Flaming Lips
can weave a couple F
of themes into there Embryonic'
and you can sprawl Warner Bros,
a little bit." Embry-
onic sprawls a lot. It also meanders,
spaces out and - occasionally - suck-e
er punches you in the cerebellum.
The record suffers from a clas-
sic case of double-album syndrome.
From a band that's been so chroni-
cally consistent in its songwriting,'
Embryonic is a disappointing mix of
songs that are songs and songs that Hairiest exorcism ever.
are ideas. The record is the "fear-
less freaks" at their most mind-jar- Another momentum-killer is the
ringly experimental, but much of the nearly six-minute "Evil," the album's
experimentation here is fruitless, second track and first omen that this
clogging up the album's flow with is going tobe a record with skippable
whacked-out filler. songs. The track starts out somberly
Embryonic is stocking-stuffed on sleepy synth drones, drifts into
with "mood" pieces that sound like an equally sleep-deprived chorus,
they should be 45-second interludes indulges in some squelchy bass puls-
but are stretched out exhaustingly to ing and then repeats the same exdct
the three-minute mark. "Virgo Self- process all over again. Coyne's vocals
Esteem Broadcast" is like a five-min- are pretty watery here, both sonically
ute sleep hypnosis tape for absurdists, and lyrically: "I wish I could go back
with wildlife noises, space-opera ooh- / go back in time / But ni one ever
ing and ahh-ing and some guy who really can / go back in time / Oh, I
sounds like Dumbledore solemnly would have shown you /tthose people
intoning "This is the beginning" over are evil / and they'll hurt you if they
and over again. "Scorpio Sword" is can." While this sort of ethics-for-
an endless build-up of monomaniacal dummies songwriting works when
drum rolls and false-start guitars arti- the band is operating in fun mode,
ficially resolved with the last-minute Embryonic's more "serious" vibe
intervention of melodramatic strings makes Coyne's color-by-anumbers
and harp trickling. sermonizing feel facile.
The majority of the album's instru- Although the album's uncharac-
mentals are like texturally rich sonic teristic shortage of saccharine hooks
blueprints begging to be charmed (there's not one bona fide "pop song"
into actual songs. Sure, they all sound on the whole record) is compensated
pretty "trippy," but these extended for in adrenaline on the album's hard-
atmospheric gags purae the album's er, groovier songs, too often does the
momentum. band fall into the trap of vaguely mor-
The other day I read James Joyce's short
story "Araby" on my iPod Touch. The first
time I read it, I was 15. I was ina high
school English class taking in the words from
the grimy printed page of a hand-me-down text-
book - one with "J LOVES
P" scrawled on the page ends.
And now, as a post-teenager,
I've taken it in again, this time
in a cafe on the screen of a
One of the main differenc-
es? The printed page is bigger "WITNEy
than the screen - on the iPod,P
I am encouraged to take in W
"Araby" in small gulps, a hundred or so words at a
time, due to screen size and font size (the bigger it
is, the less I squint, which is a good thing). On the
page, however, my perspective is wider: I can see
the printed landscape of the story unfolding, fore-
seeing phrases like "I lingered before her stall"
lying in the paragraph breaks ahead.
This idea of certain technological mediums
breaking things into smaller bits is intriguing
to me - not just in the amount of text presented
on something like an iPod or a Twitter feed, but
in our conceptions of time being broken down
into smaller and smaller portions. I noticed that,
in the short minutes taken waiting in line at
Cafe Ambrosia to order a medium Chai Bomb, I
could quickly boot up my iPod Touch and check
my e-mail (WiFi permitting) or, instead, read a
"page" of "Araby" in its entirety.
The idea of time management has changed, as
a short period of time can now be given to what
we'd like to call "productivity," or this constant
imbibing of information in tiny sips from portable
devices like Blackberries or iPhones. I recently
talked to a friend of a friend, who mentioned that
she got the newsflash of Obama's Nobel Peace
Prize on her phone at around 6 a.m. the day of
the announcement. In that usually groggy-eyed,
hazy-minded, hallucinatory minute one takes to
brush one's teeth in the morning, I presume she
was catching up on current events that occurred
between midnight and wakefulness.
This idea of smaller, productive chunks of
time is somethingthat can be applied directly to
e-books themselves. This past weekend I attended
the Future of the Book Symposium, which was
hosted by the University's Clements Library, the
U-M Special Libraries Association and the School
of Information. It was at this conference that I
came to see various panelists' perspectives on the
life, or death, or neither, of books.
Mary Sauer-Games, the vice president and
head of Higher Education Publishing for Pro-
Quest LLC (the online research-oriented database
compilingvast quantities of scholarly informa-
tion), brought up an interesting point during her
lecture: E-books are, in fact, beingused differ-
ently than paper books.
The research she presented by the Joint Infor-
mation Systems Committee, which is devoted to
studying the effects and usage of the e-book, was
somewhat expected from personal experience,
but the numbers were still surprising. Based on
surveys completed by 22,437 people between
Jan. 2008 and summer 2009, of the 12,014 who
did read e-books, 54.7 percent admitted that they
"dipped in and out of several chapters" when they
read the texts online.
This means that more than half of those sur-
veyed have been skimming e-books, which pres-
ents some insight into the usage of the book itself:
These digital books are not necessarily being read
cover-to-cover (so to speak) for an immersive
experience, but being used to provide an extrac-
tive experience - one where readers use e-books
to quickly find and collect information. It seems
like even books themselves now are bending
to our wills and our free time, providing us the
resources we need when we need them. All of this
is contrasted with the fact that, pre-Internet, one
had to bend one's self (walking through the snow
to the library) and one's time (writing away sev-
E-books get skimmed,
eral hours of the weekend to stay there and study)
to the gathering of information.
So maybe e-books, for now, are fulfilling a dif-
ferent utilitarian niche for book readers, provid-
ing a subtle but noticeably different experience
from the paper page. As with a lot of technologies,
including blogs and Twitter, we have become
accustomed to usingtechnology as a means of
connecting us quickly with mass amounts of the
information we want. But at times we care more
for quantity of informationthan the depth of that
Joyce's "Araby" still remains an immersive
work of literature, even on my iPod at Cafe
Ambrosia, with its vivid images of the fair and
the cold autumn evening, but as an e-text, it was
a world that filled in the gaps of my time, where
the unfolding story was interrupted by a barista
handing me a stout mug of spiced chal. Perhaps
the role of technology today is to provide us with
what we want quickly. And perhaps the paper
book, in its antiquity, still carries connotations of
a time where we would diligently set aside time to
let the book take us to places, instead of the other
Pow tried to read James Joyce on a her
Gameboy, but ended up catching a Pikachu.
Congratulate her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
alizing lullabies. Breathy sing-a-long
"If" and vocoder-addled robo-ballad
"The Impulse" feel like auxiliary back-
ing melodies compared to the band's
signature symphonic harmonies.
Still, there's something cohesive
and brilliant lurking amid the pink-
flamingoed folds ofEmbryonic's spotty
indulgence. Somewhere in this mess is
a fantastic 30-minute krautrock-funk
fusion album. Demonically throbbing
rhythm-fiestas like "Convinced of the
Hex" and "The Sparrow Looks Up at
the Machine" sound like Can exorcis-
ing the Talking Heads at a cantina
in hell. And yes, this is a good thing.
Embryonic taps into a spiny, visceral
darkness but muffles it in a heap of
tie-dyed meandering. -
A great double album is rarely
cohesive - The White Album is little
more than a sprawling anthology of
five-star songs. But on Embryonic this
sprawl often leaks from the arrange-
ment of the songs to the songs them-
selves. Still, there's enough prime
psychedelia here for listeners to edit
their own significantly slimmer cuts
of what should have been.
I BELIEVE IT WAS TIGGER
WHO SAID, "THE
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