Imagine, if you dare, a world where the four horsemen are galloping about, bringing much pain and suffering along with them. And you’re The Flaming Lips. What would you do to elevate people’s spirits? Obviously, you’d release an album of Bee Gees covers. That is what The Burning of Rome’s Year of the Ox sounds like. Technically, no, there are no Bee Gees covers, but the record does sound like what it would undoubtedly sound like if The Flaming Lips ever did get around to covering them. Which might not be such a stretch, given their recent collaborations with pop stars like Miley Cyrus and Kesha. In any case, The Burning of Rome blend the best elements of artsy pop, classic rock and all varieties of psychedelic music into one delicious and eclectic album, a record where no two songs are even remotely alike, and yet they come together perfectly to make one of the year’s most beautiful and addictive releases.
The album opens with the title track, a gorgeous tune called “Year of the Ox.” It begins with layers of synth and piano blended with gorgeous vocal harmonies. It’s only just after a minute that the drums enter the picture and the slow like honey vocals become entirely upbeat. It’s such a lush and giddy track that you might forget who you’re listening to and think it’s The Polyphonic Spree for a minute or three. But around the three minute mark it leaps into Queen territory when the layers of vocal harmonies are poured on thick over larger than life vodka. Er, drums. Suffice to say it’s a very, very ambitious track and it could have fallen flat on its face. But, clearly, The Burning of Rome know what they’re doing and they do it quite well. And while songs like this might feel unfocused upon first listen, they’re like perfectly ripe California peaches upon second listen.
“God of Small Things” begins with lots of people talking, though you really can’t understand any of them and that would seem to be the point. (It’s like trying to over-hear conversations on a packed subway train.) My guess is that they’re trying to show how lost you can feel, even in a crowded sea of voices, being that the song has been said to be an anti-suicide anthem. “Please don’t kill yourself, you belong to me,” goes the lyrics. The song is like a cross between The Flaming Lips and Coldplay, though the result mostly sounds like an out-take from Silverchair’s brilliant Young Modern album, which is a major compliment coming from this Silverchair junkie.
Major ass kicking ensues with “Terrible Tales From Tocqueville,” a super fast rocker with so many wonderful vocal harmonies that it’s sure to leave you feeling a bit dizzy. But it will also have you fist-pumping along as the beats sound off like a marching band on a whole lot of caffeine (or something considerably stronger). I’m too busy enjoying the melodies and all to try to decipher the much of the lyrics, but there is an obvious part done mostly acapella that’s easy enough to quote: “That’s exactly how the west was won / Straight through the barrel of a loaded gun / That those damn kids were just shooting for fun.”
Later, “Echo Park” is like a sequel to The Dandy Warhols’ “Horse Pills” with a sci-fi twist and “Melina” is like the best song Neon Trees haven’t written. Also noteworthy is “Champagne and Cigarettes,” a percussion-less tune that reeks of Scissor Sisters, albeit in a very good way.
Year of the Ox was produced by Paul Leary and Adam Traub, Leary of Butthole Surfers fame, and yet it sounds nothing like Butthole Surfers whatsoever. At least not if I’m remembering the Butthole Surfers correctly as a hardcore punk band. Then again, they were a highly energetic outfit and The Burning of Rome is that, just along with an infinite number of other qualities as well. In all seriousness, though, Year of the Ox is exquisitely produced and is sure to charm many other bands into hiring Leary as well. So, bravo to Leary, bravo to Traub and a very, very big bravo to The Burning of Rome