Hidden within the cheery, let’s-release-music-in-a-gummy-bear-and-ride-through-life-in-a-metaphorical-plastic-bubble public persona that has come to define The Flaming Lips over the past decade, darker things have been lurking: angst, anxiety, a deep fear of the unknown. And while the Oklahoma-based psych rockers have been moving aggressively in a bleaker direction since 2009′s trippy Embryonic, The Terror may well be their most dour and disturbing display to date.
The post-apocalyptic haze of distortion, martial drum beats and stuttering, Morse-code keyboards that hangs over The Terror was created largely while multi-instrumentalist Stephen Drozd was in the throes of substance withdrawal, regularly isolating himself from his bandmates during the Heady Fwends sessions. Coyne’s normally-tender vocals are reduced here to a damaged coo at best — “I believe you/ I believe,” he croaks on the extra-terrestrial ballad, “Try to Explain,” a straightforwardly melodic moment on an album with little of it.
The Terror is a challenging listen, then, but an undeniably cohesive one. Each track fuses onto the next, as when a droning, distant siren call at the tail-end of the thawing title track clasps onto the shrill strings that introduce the mechanized mayhem of album standout “You Are Alone.” The Lips, notorious for risk-taking, miss a few times here: “You Lust,” a 13-minute whirring riot structured around a repetitive organ riff, drags on into mind-numbing spoken-word invectives for many minutes too long. But otherwise, The Terror is a colorful jaunt into the heart of darkness, a distress call from under the Big Top.