Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Day Begins: "At War With the Mystics" for Breakfast

Two summers ago, I took a Japanese language course, which was horizon-expanding. Last summer, CrossFit was a bit more globally life-changing. This year’s summer project wasn’t as intentionally planned as those at the outset, but it is emerging, nonetheless: roll around on the floor with my baby daughter and try to see the world through her eyes.  As we are discovering that drink coasters have a front and a back and that bubbles don't hurt when they pop, I keep finding the tuneful, psychedelic, but ultimately positive, music of the Flaming Lips to be somehow appropriate.

One evening, I noticed that the Little One seemed to have an affinity for The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song, so we adopted this as our daily breakfast jam. I’m pretty sure that she is starting to sing parts of the song in her own 10 month-old way. It’s pretty cute – even cuter than the hilarious video.

In my opinion, the most classic album by the Flaming Lips is The Soft Bulletin, which I got into through my Aiki Brother (happy birthday, by the way!).This album has its own story for me that I will one day recount, but it is worth mentioning here because its impact made it difficult for me to accept their subsequent releases on their own merit. Even though I loyally purchased all the Flaming Lips albums that followed, for a long time, nothing they did ever seemed as good as The Soft Bulletin. When Embryonic was released in 2010, however, and I saw them play live in Denton that summer, I decided that I had done them an injustice by dismissing their back catalog.

At War With the Mystics is an album that was lost in the fog, so it didn't click for me when it was released.  After using it to announce the day nearly every day for the past three weeks, however, it has become clear that the entire album is permeated with a glorious, cosmic genius that only the Flaming Lips can generate. While it is not quite as streamlined as The Soft Bulletin, it certainly has a succession of amazingly musical moments. Some of these are quite arresting, while others take the form of soft, delicate interludes conjured from layers of acoustic guitar and mellotron. In different listening environments, like the car, where I usually listen to music, these more sensitive sections might have been easily overlooked.

For all their well-publicized musical experimentation, stuntwork, and overall weirdness, ultimately, the Flaming Lips are deeply musical, and can embed a simple song within a stunning atmosphere of musical grandeur. The spectacle of their live performance similarly juxtaposes larger-than-life imagery against intimate songcraft, and was what convinced me of their genius.  The Flaming Lips' unique brand of psychedelia somehow avoids being too derivative of Pink Floyd and other past masters.  It is distinctly their own, and really must be seen to be believed.

Overall, At War With the Mystics is a richly textured soundtrack to a morning spent with the Little One.  While advocates of the disproven "Mozart Effect" might take exception to my choice of music, there is a playfully creative demeanor at the core of the Flaming Lips musical concept that I hope my Little One will one day find inspiring.  For now, I happily accept her exclamation "YAYAYAYAYA" as a request to sing.

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