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Published: 2008/11/16
by Fady Khalil

Christmas On Mars – The Flaming Lips

Warner Brothers

To the casual viewer, Christmas on Mars may be nothing more then a strange albeit enthralling extravaganza through cobwebbed corners of the Flaming Lips’ psyche, but the true reveal lay beneath the trippy veneer. An expedition of unabashed psychedelia, the movie follows Major Syrtis, played by the Lips’ Steven Drozd, as he attempts to throw a Christmas celebration on a Martian outpost amidst the ailing psychology and life support systems of crew and colony alike. When all hope seems lost, an unexpected visitor played by band front man and co-director Wayne Coyne appears.

Beyond the wanton delusions and fantastical displays, the futuristic Christmas on Mars comes replete with that primordial of all human themes, man and the alienation of his own design. The inevitable clash between that which makes us human and that which separates us from our humanity, embodied here as technology, functions as a nebulous antagonist to Major Syrtis, and by extension us as viewer. The accompanying soundtrack is in essence an orchestration of that struggle, wordless, stark, and reactive to the scenes unfolding. There are no hooks, no yeah, yeah, yeah, nothing instantly recognizable as The Flaming Lips, but within this absence lies the provocation of emotion, even insight.

Aided by an ever present backdrop of cold, voided space, aptly titled album opener “Once Beyond Hopelessness” sets quickly into the enduring muted tone of the 12 song project. The complete exception of all sounds human, Coyne’s voice, Drozd’s fun-filtered synthesizations, or Ivin’s and Scurlock’s bass-drum call for gyration, manages to wholly remove listeners from familiar sonic surroundings, instead becoming an opening gambit to a war of prolonged isolation permeated by dark, icicled sounds and sensations. The remorseless mechanical warping of “Your Spaceship Comes From Within” furthers the disturbing study in alienation as key-generated distant sound waves straddle dead space with clock-like impatience, unremitting, and goading consciousness to glimpse some greater pulp that lay barely beneath the mere visual display of the movie.

Late album, a crescendoing percussive threat rises in “The Distress Signals of Celestial Objects” after a series of unrelenting tracks on a wearing bent have maddened an already fatigued psyche, until finally, respite, a precious drop of something human, keyboards made to sing a bird’s song. Against the alien surroundings of “Space Bible With Volume Lumps,” these simple, familiar sounds are catharsis; oft-ignored noise has garnered profound new significance.

“Once Beyond Hopelessness,” returns to close, but now with classic Lips’ smile-fueled eruptions. No voice, none of Coyne’s guitar riffage sure to clean out the baddies in your gut-worm, but there is joy, simple joy. The cost of alienation becomes exquisitely clear by its juxtaposition to the value of this, the most basic of all human experiences, and only then does the masterminding reveal itself. Christmas on Mars’ soundtrack plays life bereft of all sounds human, by design illuminating the worth of all things human. Without a single word, so much is communicated to those willing to listen.

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