The first time I ever heard the Flaming Lips was on Beavis and Butt-Head, where the duo promptly ripped on the bizarre, hypercolor video for "She Don't Use Jelly." I recalled that criticism years later when a friend recommended The Soft Bulletin. I gave the album a fair chance, though, and it quickly rose in my rankings. Now I consider it one of the greatest albums ever made.
Man can't live on beats alone. The Soft Bulletin is the perfect comedown after a night of hard partying. Analog synths, orchestral flourishes, high-pitched vocals, and insistent drumming combine to make the most life-affirming album about death you'll ever hear. It should be morbid, but instead it's hopeful, optimistic. The emotional resonance is the same you get from the mopey IDM of B. Fleischmann or Tape or Múm's odes to lost youth. In each case, attentive listening removes the barrier between the listener and the music, so heartstrings are played as much as any of the instruments. It's that connection that makes The Soft Bulletin timeless.
Readers might be wondering why the hell this column is about some weird band. Consider it an invitation to expand your horizons: Start with The Soft Bulletin and your first impression of the Flaming Lips will not only be better than my own, you'll discover a group that ignores sonic boundaries and yet remains surprisingly accessible.
If The Soft Bulletin is the ultimate comedown record, then the Decibel Festival is this weekend's reason to be amped up and out late. Decibel is finally here, so it's time for any and every electronic music fan to come out and hear a mix of legends and up-and-comers, party jams and experimental compositions you can't get anywhere else.
Diplo, Switch, and Simian Mobile Disco are some of the most anticipated acts of the entire festival, so the Thursday show at Neumo's is sure to go off. At some point you'll want to make your way to the Baltic Room to catch some of the Orac showcase, too. The label is local but their reputation for forward-thinking techno is international, and for good reason.
Friday, Jacob London will debut a new electro-tinged live set at Chop Suey. They never disappoint; even if they were doing zydeco they'd be worth seeing. There's more electro over at Neumo's, with Motor sounding like an ominous Daft Punk, while Kill Memory Crash will please the industrial fans.
Early Saturday it's all about Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd at Town Hall. The former cofounded the Cocteau Twins, the latter collaborated with Brian Eno. They're both ambient legends, and they're performing together. Later that night features the return of our own Jeff Samuel, who's been off in Berlin for the last year living the techno dream.
Sunday closes out with a slew of great artists at various venues, including ex-Kraftwerk percussionist Wolfgang Flur, the beat-butchery of Chris De Luca & Phon.O, and Claude VonStroke, the one-man party, showcasing his new label, Mothership.
These are recommendations, but the whole point of Decibel Festival is to discover new music. Keep an open mind and dance to whatever tickles your fancy. Don't worry, something will.
The Decibel Festival is Thurs Sept 20 through Sun Sept 23 at various venues. For more information, go to www.dbfestival.com.