Review Summary: Trippy Experimental Pop From a Trippy Experimental Group
The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
Upon picking up this most recent record by the experimental sonic, former- noiserock group The Flaming Lips, I was expecting wackiness to the tune of The Aquabats. Perhaps the box art threw me off, featuring bright colors, giant pink robots and copious Japanese writing, both on the album cover and the disc itself.
The track titles also led me astray in their sheer strangeness: 'Ego Tripping At the Gates of Hell', 'Throbbing Orange Pallbearers', 'In The Morning of the Magicians'.
The music was a giant step sideways from my expectations - mellow, highly melodic and often dreamy and even slightly psychedelic - kind of a funkier, even lower-key Radiohead.
After a couple more listens, I began to appreciate this record as the musical equivalent of a nice bowl of tapioca (whipped cream and maraschino cherry optional); it ain't steak, but it's got a peculiarly substantial feel of its own.
Dozens of listens later I fully resonate with this album. I love and appreciate this album as the album that helped me fully appreciate mellow music. It made me patient. This is the Lips record that broke into me where The Lips' previous record, The Soft Bulletin, merely knocked.
The songs on the album are densely-engineered and ethereal; the guitars are often almost unrecognizable, and bloopy sound effects cut in at perfect times to accentuate the mellow feel of the record. This is an album from the school of slow melodies with fast beats, and it shows. The songs are all completely cohesive - the album has an ebb and flow all its own, perfectly contrasting the floaty and the harsh, the far-off and the immediate.
The album's lyrics are both mostly-uncreative and perfect. There's a lot that's hard to put my finger on about this release; with 'Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots', the focus is not on your eventual destination, but the journey. The lyrics are innocent, heartfelt and simple. Wayne Coyne has no great reputation as a lyricist, but the lyrics here somehow keep the ambitious music grounded.
Coyne's voice is oddly complimentary to the mood of the music; he sings with a genuine earnestness that gives the lyrics more weight than they would otherwise have. The vocals are mixed very low to the music in most songs, making this record ideal for active listening or background music. The Flaming Lips methodically, carefully let you into their world on their own terms, forcing nothing on you. This kind of record is best listened to in a good mood, with the musical aura sort of sponging around you.
Uh. . . in a good way.
I'm not familiar with the Cat Stevens song this apparently resembles (Google it for more info), but 'Fight Test' sets up the record perfectly. An internal debate about the importance of defending yourself, the song features the best in multi-track recording: crowd noise, multiple layers of Wayne's vocals and the various instruments showpiece the mood of the record.
One More Robot / Sympathy 3000-21:
'Fight Test' segues perfectly into the second track, a slower, well-flowing number featuring some of the best, most emotionally-involving lyrics on the record. The robot subplot on this album barely covers four tracks, yet this second track manages to flesh out our invaders to some degree:
'Unit three thousand twenty-one is warming, makes a humming sound -
When its circuits duplicate emotions - and a sense of coldness detaches
As it tries to comfort your sadness. One more robot learns to be something more than a machine.'
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots pt. 1:
Definitely one of the boppiest numbers on the album, but not without that involved sadness that permeates the record. The third of four robot-related tracks, and the most fanciful, this track is heavily sound-sampled (some samples courtesy of Yoshimi P-We, member and frontwoman of the experimental Japanese noisegroup band OOIOO and member of The Boredoms. Some of her sound effects can be a tad hard on the ears). It's a fun song, not not nearly as frenzied as Part 2. . .
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots pt. 2:
This final chapter in the Robots subplot, an instrumental, is thrilling, repetitive background music for Yoshimi's final climactic battle with the pink robots. The sound effects will have people reaching for the volume control, but this album gets easier on the ears from here on out, so grin and bear it.
In the Morning of the Magicians:
This is more like it. A catchy, soft little heartfelt number, 'In the Morning of the Magicians' settles the track into the rest of the album's themes: death, lost love and regret. This is a song which rewards the patient, with a beautiful slow-moving theme. This track shifts the album's theme perfectly - songwriting like this doesn't come along very often.
Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell:
Don't let the psycho title catch you off guard - this song is another ideosyncratic mix of funky and soulful rock - definitely not hellish. This echoey track is another great marriage of subdued vocals and boppy instrumentation.
I've just had a realization - this whole album sounds like background music on one of those upbeat nature shows for children! You know - those low-budget ones that show leaves gathering dew and clouds moving across the sky in fast motion, because they're only like ten minutes long?
I'm only going to get weirder as I keep this going.
Are You a Hypnotist??:
This song starts exactly like the last two tracks, but, thankfully, makes itself stand out with a great, epic chorus, and pretty frenetic drumming. Aah. . . this song is relaxing. This whole ALBUM is relaxing! I swear - I could fall asleep with this record playing! I'm going to have to go out and buy it, instead of just checking it out from the library like some kind of cheap punk.
It's Summertime (Throbbing Orange Pallbearers):
This song features a crazy, wah-wah sound effect for some of the instrumentation. I could listen to that main groove all day. Super-relaxing. If these guys came out with an ambient music easy-sleeping album, I'd rush right out and get it. Forget this Fantomas stuff!
Do You Realize??:
Despite opening up with the dopiest count of 'one, two, three, four!' that has ever been recorded, 'Do You Realize??' (Always remember the TWO question marks. The band has repeatedly stressed their importance) fortunately gets better.
It's actually a fairly motivational song with a good message: You should let your loved ones know that you care about them before they die in some horrific manner and it grows too late. My only complaint is the sharp drop in lyrical quality on this track.
All We Have Is Now:
Just when you thought the album couldn't get any mellower, a newer, mellower mellow comes in, beats the old mellow to a pulp, and takes its place. This song pushes you halfway to Nirvana, it's so bloody peaceful. The philosophical lyrics are almost unintelligible in the mix - that is, if you aren't already half-comatose from having your brain mindfreaked right out of your head by this absurdly-peaceful album. I love the guitar transition sounds.
Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia):
The second instrumental of the record, this song is a little funkier than the preceding five or so tracks. The guitars have quite a bit more of an edge, and this is one of the few instrumentals I'll chicken-bob my head too. (Is that the right phrase - "chicken-bob?" Anyway it's the black version of headbanging.)
EXTRA CREDIT QUESTION: Is that a guy yodeling in the background? You'll have to decide for yourself.
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