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Flaming Lips: The Terror (Album Review)

There’s always been a relentless optimism hidden behind the Flaming Lips’ unique brand of pop experimentalism, from the uplift of songs like “Do You Realize??” and “Fight Test” to the band’s gleeful acid-tinged live performances. Which makes their understated 13th album, The Terror, an evocation of a bleak, post-apocalyptic future, such a striking contrast. Don’t let the title of the album’s opener, “Look…The Sun Is Rising,” fool you. A more representative song title is “You Lust,” a track that portrays the utter longing for something one can never have: love, or perhaps just the way things used to be. Featuring frequent collaborators Phantogram, “You Lust” is a wandering track that never builds to a climax, an effective soundtrack to a day in the life of someone who exists within the album’s universe, wandering along desolate streets. Meanwhile, the title track’s quiet, jazzy drumbeat is eventually obscured by glitchy electronic flourishes and noise, while the terrifying “You Are Alone” masterfully segues into “Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die,” which sounds like a more electronic, broken version of Johnny Greenwood’s foreboding score to The Master. The Terror’s smallest upbeat musical aspects conjure miniscule feelings of hope in the listener before they’re quickly dashed. The album’s downbeat gloom was, perhaps, spawned by singer Wayne Coyne’s recent separation from his partner of 25 years, or possibly multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd’s drug relapse. Or maybe the Lips’ latest is just a necessary reminder that a seemingly happy guy who spends his time singing about fighting robots sometimes has demons to fight just like the rest of us.