As I heard this before "The Soft Bulletin", the Flaming Lips' sparkling neo-psychedelia was a substantially new sound to me. Now having heard both, I can recognise a band firmly at their peak who are in no hurry to get down. They strike a rare balance between being mellow and constantly engaging, musically adventurous without being gimmicky or kitchen-sink. Initially it seemed like a blend of Future Sound of London's eccentric "The Isness" and the grinning downbeat of Air. Now the Flaming Lips have established themselves as my benchmark for colourful, experimental pop.
Wayne Coyne's floaty voice isn't exactly powerful, but it suits these supremely chilled pieces perfectly. Especially since he is given delicious tune after tune to float. The first two times I listened to the album, "Yoshimi", part 1, had stuck rigidly in my head for the rest of the day. So the third time, I deliberately skipped over this insanely catchy track. But as Sod's law would have it, I got the earworm anyway. It's as mellow and deadpan as a song about a machine-fighting anime hero can possibly be. Those spluttering mechanical grunts on "Yoshimi part 2" bring to mind another messy rock robot-fight, from (the somewhat less credible) Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Tarkus".
Their arrangements and Dave Fridmann's production are as exquisite as ever. A few more notes and sounds here and there would have tipped some of these songs over the edge into being bloated, but they get it just right. The smooth way the jaunty introduction to "In the Morning of the Magicians" floats into the pastoral main song is beautifully timed. "Ego Tripping" recalls their previous album's "Feelin' Yourself Disintegrate" in its wide eyed, spacious sound.
Their melodic inspiration seems to sag towards the end, but only because the flawless tunes of the first half had spoiled us. Only the relentless drumming stops "Are You a Hypnotist" from being a soporific drift. The glittering orchestrated productions also manage to sustain the interest, from the Beatlesy guitars of "It's Summertime" through to the celestially ascending "All We Have Is Now". The final instrumental "Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon" mingles orchestral-pop nostalgia with spacey effects beautifully.
As the first song is about fighting, and the second about robots, some people have decided that "Yoshimi" is a "concept album". That's misguided, there's no connection or big story, it's just a case of ideas spawning similar ideas. But the album's continuous musical sweep, and those gorgeous orchestral interludes (such as the luscious ending of "One More Robot") make it a solid unified work and an intensely good listen.
April 25, 2005