Listen: forget about Ke$ha’s menstrual blood. Ignore the 24-hour song. Don’t worry about the life-sized human gummy skulls or the furry animal costumes.

For all the marveling at the Flaming Lips’ longevity—this year marks the 30th anniversary of its long, strange trip as a band—there’s much to be said for the group’s continued resilience against claims of self-indulgence, irrelevance, and outright gimmickry. The Lips were called one-hit wonders, novelty darlings of Beverly Hills, 90210, so they recorded Clouds Taste Metallic, a tremendously rich noise-pop record with no clear single. They were (unfairly) dismissed for the uncompromising experimentalism of Zaireeka, so they followed it up with a nakedly emotional masterwork, 1999’s The Soft Bulletin. Having fawned over the band since 2003, even I was concerned by the cutesy, Kraft-commercial-ready flair of At War with the Mystics. The band’s shows had grown increasingly staged, marked by giant hamster balls and strikingly visual attractions. But then came 2009’s Embryonic, a sprawling, unhinged triumph that marked the band’s first rock record in over a decade.

Now what? Over the past several years, Wayne Coyne and co. have immersed themselves in an incessant stream of headline-grabbing stunts, EP-length releases, and hit-or-miss collaborations. But if Coyne wants to fill his spare time between LPs breaking Guinness World Records or smearing Nick Cave’s blood into the grooves of plexiglass-encased limited edition vinyl, who gives a shit? Everyone needs a hobby, and The Terror, the band’s uncharacteristically bleak 13th full-length, draws the attention back to where it belongs: the Lips’ music, which rattles with some of the most bracingly damaged noisescapes this side of Zaireeka.

For a band famous for confronting mortality and violence with wide-eyed, optimistic wonder—from “Love Yer Brain” all the way to “Do You Realize??”—The Terror is noted for its unremitting despair. The album title, says Coyne, takes inspiration from the revelation “that even without love, life goes on…There is no mercy killing.” Fittingly, from opener “Look…The Sun is Rising,” an anxious synth rave-up full of bleating guitar blasts and lines like “Fear is all you hear,” to closer “Always There, In Our Hearts,” which has Coyne intoning “Always there, in our hearts / There is evil that wants out,” the album is crammed with grim proclamations of existential dread. The centerpiece is “You Lust,” an ominous, 13-minute jam with Phantogram that marks the group’s most overt Floyd tribute since covering Dark Side in its entirety. “You’ve got a lot of nerve to fuck with me,” Coyne croaks over a sinister guitar lick, but the bearded vocalist sounds more weary than menacing, eons away from the fearless freak who sang “Fight Test” and “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” in a human-sized hamster ball. On The Terror, his vocals are only another fragment in the machine, often obscured by synth textures or—on the title track and “You Are Alone”—eerily paired with Steven Drozd’s ghostly falsetto, which plays an increasingly prominent role.

Musically, this is another formidable outburst that will disrupt the Lips’ comfortable progression into fun-loving elder statesmen of psychedelia. But The Terror is more insular and less song-driven than Embryonic, and there’s nothing as goofy as “I Can Be a Frog” or as shatteringly triumphant as “Watching the Planets.” The tracks fade into one another, buoyed by an industrial undercurrent of sonic dread — think “Thirty-Five Thousand Feet of Despair” paired with Silver Apples and Suicide for good measure. On “The Terror,” it’s palpable in the detuned pianos and jagged keyboard eruptions that cut into lines like “The terror’s in our heads / We don’t control the controls,” and on “You Are Alone” and “Try To Explain,” it’s a clock-like metronome and fluttering synth modulator borrowed from Slowdive’s Pygmalion.

Whether The Terror draws its grim ambiance from Coyne’s recent separation from Michelle Martin-Coyne, his partner of 25 years, or Steven Drozd’s reported relapse into heroin addiction matters little. It’s not an easy listen, but arriving in the middle of a news week marked by a bombing in Boston, letters tainted with ricin, a bitterly defeated gun law, and an explosion in Texas that killed up to 40, it feels like an urgent, even necessary one. Sometimes we don’t control the controls. Sometimes the pink robots beat Yoshimi to a pulp.

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