Sometimes it’s easier to recognize genius than it is to enjoy it.
That will be the case for many who hear “The Flaming Lips & Heady Fwends,” a project assembled by Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, who along with Steven Drozd are sonic scientists who somehow infuse continuity into what should have been a weird, piecemeal collection of one-off collaborations with a disparate gang of musicians. Originally released as a vinyl album in April for Record Store Day, “Heady Fwends” now makes its way out on digital and CD formats.
It all starts with Ke$ha, the skanky pop-rapper with a wicked sense of humor and a sharp voice that slices through the blasts of amped-up industrial noise on “2012 (You Must Be Upgraded),” which also features beatbox rapper Biz Markie and fragments of The Stooges’ “1969.” The subsequent “Ashes in the Air” finds Coyne’s voice mixing with Bon Iver in an ethereal bubble bumped by shrill outside forces.
The uncomfortable yet strangely inviting assault continues with such familiar voices as Nick Cave serving as a post-apocalypse carnival barker on the crashing “You, Man? Human???” and Yoko Ono spreading contagious anxiety with the title refrain in the reverberating “Do It!” Other far-flung names include My Morning Jacket’s Jim James (singing on a “That Ain’t My Trip” that feels like a fuzzbox intruding on an ancient pagan ritual) and R&B vocalist Erykah Badu fading in and out of a 10-minute-maelstrom version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”
To Coyne’s credit, there’s a healthy supply of indie upstarts — Neon Indian, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Tame Impala — who leave a little DNA at this cacophonous crime scene. Also noteworthy: Aaron Behrens of Ghostland Observatory delivers distinctly delicious storytelling on a scratchy “Tasered and Maced,” a cut that replaces a Coyne collaboration with Coldplay’s Chris Martin on the vinyl “Heady Fwends.”
This is an austere universe populated by a collection of misfits and underdogs living in a climate of bracing storms and tedious lulls. There’s little in the way of mainstream reward — headaches are a possibility — yet the ugly/beautiful sound flows with a kind of otherworldly purpose, the destiny of a ragtag army on a unified mission.
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of five)
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!