Murky songs of desolation
It’s easy to see “The Terror,” a tensed-up, inner-looking record, as a counterpoint to the arena-sized explorations of the Flaming Lips’ “Embryonic.” The better contrast, though, may come in remembering the cut-loose, often fascinating collaborations that composed the “Heady Fwends” collection. This record, “The Terror,” is a more personal set about isolation and disconnection, even loneliness.
While this may be a more dissonant noise, it’s also a logical progression of their recent recorded output. Gone are the goofy genre jumps of “At War With the Mystics” and here are more serious eccentricities.
Opener “Look ... The Sun Is Rising” is awash in warm, swelling fuzz, but it’s the shadowy, angular synths that come in halfway through and throw the mix off along with those treble-light, skronky guitar cuts. (Those cuts come back several times in the record, slashing through the murk with all the speed and blunt force of a well-sharpened hatchet.)
“Be Free, A Way” coats Coyne’s voice in a distant, ghostly echo, and the pulsing electronics take on a chilling steadiness, made bigger by the space around them.
This all marks a big shift away from the communal feeling and towards more personal panic. “The Terror” isn’t external, it’s in our heads. The seemingly bright closer, “Always There, In Our Hearts,” is actually about fear and imminent death.
The music conveys these feelings in heady, overcast trance. The overall effect, the move through the album’s 54 minutes, is both jarring and fascinating. It’s an album that drifts away from you only to pull you back in, not with a huge burst of noise, but rather, with the back and forth vocal harmonies of “You Are Alone.”
What’s interesting, though, is that focus on the head, on the struggle with our own thoughts, especially post-crisis. That the Lips might investigate this particular tension is a bold move. But if the band succeeds on these other planes, creating camaraderie with an audience through their sound, here the density of layers and Coyne’s muted vocals are often distancing. We’re left to observe isolation without rooting down into it. We have an arresting sound, one that keeps our attention but never quite envelops us.
Matthew Fiander – Popmatters.com