The Flaming Lips
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
The virtues of Flaming Lips are what you'd come across in the ideal boho personal ad — geeky but charming, intellectual and arty, but not aloof. Elusive yet honest and sincere.
How did these Oklahoma boys manage to meet these criteria? Sometimes from sophistication is born simplicity — and vice versa. The Flaming Lips have given birth to both dualities, disarming their fans with simultaneously straightforward and intricate musicianship. From the band's early noise-rock days to its later years of out-there experimentation to its current art-pop vanguard, The Lips have managed to break new ground experimentally and commercially. (This is the same band that created Zaireeka, a set of four CDs arranged to be played in unison, and performed its Top 40 '90s hit She Don't Use Jelly on Beverly Hills 90120.)
In 1999, The Lips released what many fans deemed their masterpiece, The Soft Bulletin, which made many a Top 10 o' the year critic's list. That album lavishes in big swaths of lush, heavenly sounds, with heady musings on self-determination and the fate of mankind. But with all its complexities, the CD remains accessible, just shy of straying into prog-rock la-la land.
The Lips' latest release also treads this fine, all-too-delicate line. Just as daring and grand in scope, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is a more than worthy follow-up to Bulletin, taking the band even further into trippy, spacey experimentation and melodic songcraft.
A good three-fourths of the tunes on Yoshimi are even catchier than its predecessor. Airier and more whimsical, the songs take on personal, at times uplifting, tones, with messages about learning from past mistakes and making the most of the days ahead (especially in the album's two most touching songs, Do You Realize? and What We Have is Now).
The deceptively upbeat opener The Fight Test reflects on love lost with the painful realization that a little effort goes a long way: For to lose I could accept but to surrender I just wept and regretted this moment/ Oh that I — I was the fool. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1 is more lighthearted and equally pleasant, with kooky synths complemented by acoustic guitar strums and a plodding bass.
If you're thinking this is some sort of concept album, you're wrong. Sure, recurrent sound effects and ideas thread through the CD with a Japanese sci-fi feel that matches the album art, but these are just playful trappings for songs conveying messages that are more urgent and universal. (Warner Bros.)
Possessing an impressive post-rock resume that includes stints with Codeine, Come, Pullman and The New Year, Boston's Chris Brokaw is a guitarist of a different stripe. He also happens to be a drummer of some repute, which he uses to help shape and color his solo disc, Red Cities, an eclectic and eminently listenable outing that's long on melody and layered texture and virtually devoid of improvisation, stunt-like or otherwise. Brokaw glides through a variety of moods: the slow, building arpeggios of The Fields; the corrosive chords on Gauntlet, which call to mind The Beatles' I Want You (She's So Heavy); the spaghetti Western feel of Calimoxcho; the controlled cacophony of Bath House. Two of the best songs showcase his postmodern take on roots styles. Topsfield State Fair, is, on the surface, a twangy two-step, but the ominous chord sequence is just a bit off, as are the crashing intrusion of occasional rock power chords. At the Crossroads repeats a simple, slurry slide figure, evoking the Delta by way of the desert, as dissonant atmospherics well up in the background. On Red Cities, Brokaw proves himself to be more a composer and sound sculptor than out-and-out ax man, but one suspects he's got some hidden guitar slinger in him too. (Atavistic, www.atavistic.com)
Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone
The title probably refers to three members' tenures in Jonathan Fire*Eater, a storied NYC act that eventually collapsed under the weight of the industry's hyperbolic expectations. Thanks, industry. Anyway, The Walkmen ply mesmerizing, meandering, garage-y art-rock that can be both strangely compelling and irritatingly precious. Irreverent arrangements, atmospheric instrumentation and a warm, murky guitar bath characterize the tunes, most of which appear on various recent vinyl and EP releases. Some idiot will almost certainly dub them the new Doors, though they share little with that particular institution beyond a penchant for the evocative and a singer with an effusive baritone. Though hit-and-miss, The Walkmen concoct inventive, textured soundscapes and a dated, Vaudeville-of-the-damned vibe that definitely draws you in, even if you decide not to stay. (StarTime International, www.startimeintl.com)
Lookout for Hope
When it comes to Dobro guitar, Jerry Douglas reigns supreme. Even if you're unfamiliar with the name, you've probably heard Douglas play. Emmylou Harris, Paul Simon and Garth Brooks are just a few of the more than a thousand artists who have recruited Douglas to contribute to their albums. Throughout the years, Douglas' own discs have included forays into jazz, classical, blues, rock, country and progressive bluegrass. His latest effort, Lookout for Hope, brings all these styles together to form the ideal Americana soundscape. The album effortlessly flows from blues grit to jazz grace. The instrumentals are augmented by well-fitting vocal offerings courtesy of James Taylor on one track and the angelic Maura O'Connell on another. In all, this is an album of soothing beauty, brimming with soulful craftsmanship and potent emotion. (Sugar Hill, www.sugarhillrecords.com)