Syd Barrett: An Introduction to Syd Barrett

RIYL: early Pink Floyd, Robyn Hitchcock, The Flaming Lips

Fans of Pink Floyd’s original frontman, the late Syd Barrett, will no doubt look at this latest collection of some of the man’s greatest musical moments and wonder why on earth they should be expected to fork out several more dollars for songs that they already possess in their collections. Indeed, a cursory glance at the track listing would lead one to believe that the only possible merits to purchasing An Introduction to Syd Barrett are these: it’s the first time that there’s been a Barrett collection which also included highlights of his work with the Floyd, and there are a handful of tracks…five, if we’re to be precise: “Matilda Mother,” “Here I Go,” “Octopus,” “She Took A Long Cool Look” (note the title change, as the look in question used to be cold), and “Dominoes”…which bear parenthetical assurances that they have been either freshly mixed or newly remixed in the year of our lord 2010. Is this really enough to make An Introduction worth your while, let alone your money? Before you make that decision, it’s worth considering that the purchase of the CD, whether in digital or physical form, also grants you the opportunity to download “Rhamadan,” a heretofore-unreleased instrumental from the Barrett vaults.

That’s got you, hasn’t it? And don’t think EMI doesn’t know it.

It might also up the credibility of this collection to know that the mixing and remixing has been done at the hand of one D. Gilmour, with assistance from Damon Iddins and Andy Jackson. Gilmour also added a bit of bass of “Here I Go,” despite the fact that the song had successfully remained bass-free for 41 years, but given that he and Roger Waters probably had as much (if not more) to do with The Madcap Laughs getting finished as Barrett himself, it’s hard to begrudge him the opportunity to fix something that he’s apparently always heard as broken.

While it’s not hard to accept that the world might be a better place with a collection that covers both Barrett’s work as a solo artist and as a member of Pink Floyd, the choice of material to represent the latter could’ve done with a bit more expansion. Presumably, EMI didn’t want to lose possible future purchases of A Saucerful of Secrets by including the only Barrett composition from that record, but given that “Jugband Blues” stands as his final song to be placed on a Pink Floyd album, its absence can’t help but be felt. And when in Syd’s name is someone at that label going to wise up and offer official release to “Vegetable Man” and “Scream Thy Last Scream”? Surely this was the time and place to finally make it happen, but, no, they dropped the ball, much as they’ve continued to drop it for…wow, has it really been 43 years since those songs were recorded and locked in the vault? How time flies.

If you’ve yet to be introduced to the strange and psychedelic world of Syd Barrett, this is certainly a way to go, but if we can pretend for a moment than An Introduction to Syd Barrett is about bringing new fans into the Barrett camp (as opposed to getting existing fans to spend more money on old material), it’s not likely to do any better or worse than any of the existing albums. Underlining Barrett’s place in Pink Floyd’s legacy is a noble gesture on Gilmour’s part, but Syd’s still going to be the same acquired taste that he’s always been. (EMI 2010)

Syd Barrett official website


The Album Leaf: A Chorus of Storytellers

RIYL: Hammock, Death Cab for Cutie, Pink Floyd

It’s hard to believe this is the Album Leaf’s fifth album release, and that the group, led by mastermind Jimmy LaValle, is celebrating 10 years of existence. But here it is, A Chorus of Storytellers, the group’s new one, and it’s the same dreamy alt-pop LaValle and company has become known for – but even more polished, if that’s at all possible. Only four of the ten tracks on A Chorus of Storytellers have vocals, but it’s not like you expect an album from these guys to be full of vocal music anyway. In fact, some of their instrumental material is their best, the kind of music that takes you away to a far-off euphoric island and lets you forget about everything going on around you. Of course, it’s also incredibly pleasant music to work to or play in the background of a hipster party. The ten tracks on here flow nicely together, but some of the standouts are the melancholy instrumentals “Within Dreams” and “Stand Still,” and the dark yet strangely uplifting “Until the Last.” But LaValle really shines on the vocal number, “We Are,” which has a beautiful melody and subtly awesome harmonies against a stunning musical backdrop. Too many adjectives? Maybe, but The Album Leaf’s music continues to be adjective-inspiring. (Sub Pop 2010)

The Album Leaf MySpace Page


The Flaming Lips: Dark Side of the Moon

RIYL: Les Claypool’s cover album of Animals, charity compilations, not Pink Floyd

The decision for the Flaming Lips to cover, in its entirety, Pink Floyd’s classic Dark Side of the Moon has certainly been met with a lot of hostility by people who consider the original to be a sacred artifact of a bygone era that should be treated with an almost religious reverence. Those people have decided to hate this album without ever hearing it, and that’s a shame, because if they did take the time to listen to it, they would have plenty of reasons to hate it on its own merits.

Okay, that’s a little harsh; this bizarre little experiment isn’t horrible by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s certainly not good, and is, as the purists love pointing out, entirely unnecessary. Most of the time the Lips (and on occasion Stardeath And the White Dwarf, who are credited as the sole performers on two tracks and as a back-up band on four others) just don’t seem to be trying. Their big creative decision seems to be on “Money,” when they sing through vocoders. The rest of the the time they just aren’t doing enough to make it really stand out from the original. “Time” gets some looping cough effects for some reason, and “On the Run” is transformed into a bass-heavy acid Jazz jam. The rest is pretty much just Dark Side with added wacky effects and cranked-up bass. It’s not weird or exciting – it’s just boring, not to mention lazy and predictable. Is anyone surprised by the fact that the Flaming Lips happen to be huge Floyd fans? I mean…duh. If the Flaming Lips really want to create a WTF moment, they should leave classics like Dark Side alone and take on something truly unexpected, maybe REO Speedwagon’s High Infidelity or Genesis’ Invisible Touch. Wayne Coyne singing “Land of Confusion,” now that would be a track worth hearing. (Warner Bros. 2010)

Flaming Lips MySpace page


The Flaming Lips: Embryonic

RIYL: Beck, early ’70s Miles Davis, pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd

It would be far too easy to call the Flaming Lips’ new album Embryonic “trippy.” Any of the albums they’ve released over the past decade could fit that description. But as it stands, the 18-track double disc affair is in fact pretty far out, even for the Lips. Drawing from the sound palettes of early ‘70s Miles Davis (the instrumental “Scorpio Sword” is particularly reminiscent of the edge-of-insanity performances that marked the days when Chick Corea and Tony Williams pushed Miles into serious avant garde territory) and pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd (think of Floyd’s soundtrack work on More), Wayne Coyne and crew have woven a heavy, dynamic soundscape that works best as a piece.


Indeed, few songs stand out from the whole, one of the exceptions being the typically novel “I Can Be a Frog,” which is impossible to hear without thinking of its accompanying video. And while Wayne’s voice has taken a beating over the years, he sings to his strengths and lets the fuzzed-out guitars and vintage electric piano sounds take center stage throughout the disc. In fact, in most cases vocals are mixed about equally with the rest of the instruments, avoiding pop melodies and song structure altogether.

This very well could be the greatest album the Flaming Lips have concocted to date, though there’s so much happening here that it might take a few years to sink in. The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots can retain popular favor in the meantime, but Embryonic is bound to fascinate and confound for years to come. (Warner Bros. 2009)

The Flaming Lips MySpace
Click to buy Embryonic from Amazon


Flaming Lips will take on Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”


How great is that picture? That must have been so fun.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Flaming Lips have already recorded a new album hot on the heels of Embryonic, which was released on Tuesday of this week. For whatever reason, they’ve decided to recreate Pink Flyod’s 1973 classic Dark Side of the Moon.

The band will release a track-by-track interpretation of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” in the near future, which it recorded with Stardeath and the White Dwarfs, a band that features Coyne’s nephew Dennis.

Henry Rollins and Peaches make guest appearances on the album, Coyne told the crowd during a pre-concert question-and-answer session. A Flaming Lips spokesman says the album will likely be an iTunes-only release, at least initially.

It will certainly be a more comfortable — at least familiar release — than the sonic experimentations of “Embryonic.” But the Flaming Lips’ fan base is one that’s always ready for a challenge, at least that’s what Coyne is betting on.

“I think our audience would forgive us for going out in the further regions of whatever we could think of,” Coyne says. “But I don’t think we’d be worthy of being forgiven if we didn’t do that. They’re giving us the freedom, the encouragement, the money and the time to say, ‘Go somewhere where no other band could go, and come back and tell us what it was like.’”

We’re all familiar with tribute albums and one-off covers, but I don’t think a popular band has ever recorded and released a legendary band’s masterpiece. When Beck and his buddies get together and do something similar, the results are more silly than anything. If the Flaming Lips were just goofing around, they shouldn’t charge for the thing. Maybe this is some sort of artistic conquest, I don’t know. But why this album and not one with less merit? Dark Side of the Moon doesn’t need an updated version.