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Album Review: American Head (September 11, 2020) – The Flaming Lips 

Review by Evan Cardinal, Albright College '21

Sep 25, 2020

The Context – 2020 has seen new releases from legends of the music industry including Bob Dylan, Deep Purple, and soon-to-be Bruce Springsteen (the Letter To You LP is set to release on October 23). Oklahoma City’s the Flaming Lips are not typically uttered in the same breath as the aforementioned acts, yet the prolific rockers have just dropped their sixteenth studio album in American Head. Remarkably, American Head is the second such project from the Lips this year as the art-rock heroes recorded the self-titled Deap Lips album in collaboration with Deap Vally.

The March 2020 release is a spacey pop-oriented piece led by the vocals of Deap Vally’s Lindsey Troy and packed with extraterrestrial production from Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips. Deap Lips is an enjoyable record in its own right, but it is carried by the performances of Deap’s Troy and Julie Edwards rather than the folky-influences from the Flaming Lips duo.

The Content – American Head has a dreamier and more ethereal ambience than the previous Lips collaboration as it features the trademark falsetto of the front man Coyne. However, the production of the record distorts Coyne’s vocals in an echoey style reminiscent of alternative rock staples Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie and the Postal Service) and Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses). Listeners hear this vocal inflection immediately with “Will You Return / When You Come Down”—a beautifully haunting track that poses a juxtaposition of soothing vocals, piano, and triangle layering with booming interludes and sorrowful lyrics of loss. The five-minute plus track transitions into a quasi-interlude absent of lyrics but full of wailing instruments and hummed female vocals from country singer Kacey Musgraves entitled “Watching the Lightbugs Glow.”

“Flowers of Neptune 6” picks up from the winded-down ending of the previous track and delivers another piece reveling in a deep-seated nostalgia. “Dinosaurs on the Mountain” continues the same foundation as its precursors with a slowly drawn vocal and instrumental build up crescendoing into a a considerably louder and more pronounced production that fades into the next track. That next track, “At the Movies on Quaaludes,” is the first overt drug-centric reference to the psychedelia imagery on the American Head cover art. “Mother I’ve Taken LSD, “You n Me Sellin’ Weed,” and “When We Die When We’re High” are the remaining tracks with clear-cut references to the nostalgic, hallucinogenic motif of the album.

The Skinny – The sixteenth installment from the Flaming Lips is a tightly-knit concept piece where each song transitions into one another seamlessly. However, the structure, production, and nostalgic themes of drug and disappointment make American Head rather monotonous in its totality. For me, not one track stands apart as being noticeably different from the others—not even the Kacey Musgraves feature on “God and the Policeman.” After hearing “Will You Return / When You Come Down,” I feel as if I’d listened to the entire album. In spite of the repetition, the sentimentality and the production value of American Head outweigh this issue and thus constructs a solid record.

The Rating – 5.7/10

American Head – track list

  1. Will You Return / When You Come Down
  2. Watching the Lightbugs Glow
  3. Flowers of Neptune 6
  4. Dinosaurs on the Mountain
  5. At the Movies on Quaaludes
  6. Mother I’ve Taken LSD
  7. Brother Eye
  8. You n Me Sellin’ Weed
  9. Mother Please Don’t Be Sad
  10. When We Die When We’re High
  11. Assassins of Youth
  12. God and the Policeman (feat. Kacey Musgraves)
  13. My Religion Is You

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