The Flaming Lips have an uncanny knack for making bad-trip psychedelic rock sound surprisingly sweet and reassuring. It’s that desperately hopeful outlook on stark mortality that earned “Do You Realize??” it’s berth in the zeitgeist (and as Oklahoma’s state rock song). The band’s newest record, The Terror, is an album-length meditation on this very theme. As singer Wayne Coyne has explained, “The terror is, we know now, that even without love, life goes on . . . we just go on . . . there is no mercy killing.”
This cosmic persistence is conveyed through the band’s transition from big, triumphantly stoner guitar riffs (as on 2009’s Embryonic) to elliptical, humming stutters and drones. Opener “Look . . . the Sun is Rising” has the rhythmic persistence of a skipping record, constantly driving the listener forward whether or not they would like to exit the spacecraft, and providing the rest of the band a tremendous slab of sonic space to explore with microtextures. Coyne’s voice is forlorn as ever, drifting across this pallet in an attempt to “Be Free, A Way,” while insisting “You Are Alone”—but it’s also the beacon toward which our hopes are drawn, like the emblematic sun that rises and “blows up today” (on the deluxe version’s titular track).
Something about this lonely desperation is damn sexy, as is the (truncated) video for the 13-minute centerpiece “You Lust,” featuring Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel—in full NSFW sci-fi glory. Without love to guide us, they suggest, “lust to succeed” may be the only gravitational pull strong enough to carry us through, violent as it is.