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EMBRYONIC TRAY“Embryonic” by The Flaming Lips (A-) 2009

Instead of trying to interpret this album in terms of any overarching concept, it’s best to simply listen to the rather instructive lyrics of the first song: “I believe in nothing, and you’re convinced of the hex”. The mass of bizarre industrial and psychedelic sounds contained afterwards makes a lot more sense if you stop trying to look for patterns in it and instead focus on the little disembodied bits of beauty that can be found in the wreckage. “I wish I could go back in time/But no one ever really can go back in time” feels heartbreaking against the soft synth warble in the background, even if it’s too vague for you to pin down any concrete meaning in it. Same goes for the timid-sounding “If” and the apocalyptic refrain of the relentless “See The Leaves”, the latter of which makes a terrifying comeback in the form of a gently pulsating coda. And the seemingly random bursts of free-form noise that punctuate the interludes give way to off-kilter grooves that lie somewhere between post-punk and early prog. Add a creepy avant-garde guitar solo on “Powerless” and some killer riffs on “The Ego’s Last Stand” and “Worm Mountain” and you’ve got yourself a highly-listenable and actually-pretty-compelling cloud of stoner nonsense. Who needs meaning when you’ve got all this musical mumbo-jumbo to back it up? And yes, it suffers a weak patch near the end when the band seems to temporarily ditch their loose song-form, but since when has cosmic chaos had any obligation to consistency?

Constantines Gang 2“Tournament Of Hearts” by The Constantines (A-) 2005
The tone here is half-exhausted, perhaps as a sort of respite from the band’s apparently soul-crushing working-class jobs. That doesn’t make their groove any less intense, though, as they demonstrate with their haunting polyrhythmic attack on “Love In Fear” and the subtly frantic “Hotline Operator”. Still, apart from the searing “Working Full Time”, an organ-driven anthem for defeated blue-collar labourers (and one of the band’s best songs), the pacing is definitely a little more laid-back. Even the uptempo “Thieves” seems sleepy-eyed with its hushed vocal and guitar tones. This works to the band’s advantage when they contrast it with Bry Webb’s harsher shouting or their newly-added horn arrangements, but a couple songs sound a bit plodding, as if the band were drifting off while playing. The acoustic lullaby that closes the album is beautiful in its fragile way, however, and anyone who’s ever felt the slightest bit overworked is likely to identify with the band’s sentiments.

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