Posts Tagged ‘the flaming lips’

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Off This Century – My Favorite Albums of 2000-2009

December 25, 2009
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Pitchfork Festival 2009

August 4, 2009

This year was my first year attending all three days of the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, and it was a great success, not just for me as a music fan and concert goer but also for the vast majority of the bands there and for Pitchfork as an organizer. I had a blast all weekend, and I saw a ton of bands play great shows. I typically find myself reluctant to stay in one place for a long time at festivals like this, and the Pitchfork Festival is in a smaller park that is easily navigable, so it wasn’t hard for me to zip around and see many acts for maybe as long as half of their total sets, and that’s just fine. I like that wider exposure to live music, and the more the merrier. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures at the festival this year, and I’m not about to steal anyone else’s for my own use, but I do think a visual accompaniment to descriptions of this festival are important, so I’d like to direct you to Pitchfork’s coverage of the festival, which is just getting started but has some pretty great pictures and interviews up for your enjoyment.

http://pitchfork.com/features/articles/7687-pitchfork-music-festival-2009-friday-and-saturday/

http://pitchfork.com/features/articles/7688-pitchfork-music-festival-2009-sunday/

http://pitchfork.com/features/photos/galleries/726-pitchfork-music-festival-2009-portraits/

There are also some great videos up on pitchfork.com with more to come, and I would recommend you check those out too. Also, youtube and google are always your friends. A simple “[band name]” + “Pitchfork Festival” search on either will yield positive results for both videos, reviews and pictures, so go for it.

I don’t think there is a better way for me to really start talking about the weekend then to just dive in, so I’ll start with the first day and just plow through.

♦♦♦

On Friday, just four bands were slated to play uncontested, elongated sets in the beautiful Union Park. Chicago band Tortoise was the first band to play, as well as the first band to adhere to the “You Write the Night” lineup, which involves bands playing songs that ticket buyers have voted for via online polls. With Tortoise, this didn’t matter so much to me, because I don’t know Tortoise well enough yet to mention songs I really like by them, at least beyond stuff on Millions Now Living Shall Never Die, which I have always liked. The show was slow moving and highly textured. This was very much a hushed and atmospheric show, which while interesting enough to listen to wasn’t particularly interesting to watch. We left early to get good spots for Yo La Tengo, because although we liked Tortoise well enough, we were getting kind of bored. The fact that we left the Tortoise show so early meant something, and I would learn soon enough exactly how it influenced the rest of the weekend.

Yo La Tengo completely embodied the contrasts of types of live shows that I would end up seeing during the weekend and in turn became even more of a foreshadowing of the weekend to come. The band’s meticulous show involves both hushed, quieter pop arrangements (“Stockholm Syndrome,” “Mr. Tough,” “Autumn Sweater”) and loud, winding noise pieces (“Pass the Hatchet I’m Feeling Goodkind,” probably the longest song performed at Pitchfork this year). Some friends I know who have already seen Yo La Tengo in smaller club environments said the band suffered a bit from the festival setup, but I think they were a great deal of fun and are a band that excel in any environment. Once again, their songs contrast with one another, some being soft pop pieces, and others loud noise jams, when Ira Kaplan does things with a guitar I never thought possible.

The show that weekend I was easily the most excited about was The Jesus Lizard. I’d psyched myself up for that show for weeks, really gotten pumped about it, got there early in order to get pretty close, and could barely contain myself by the time the band went on. I would be disrespecting both myself and the band if I called it anything other than the best show I’ve ever seen. David Yow couldn’t have affirmed everyone’s hopes any better than by screaming “AW, SHADDAP!” into the mic before they tore into “Puss” with Yow launching himself into the audience and crowd surfing. Getting back on the stage and having the entire crowd yell along with him “get ‘er outta the truck!” was easily one of the greatest moments of the entire festival.

Yow is the spirit of the band, his vocals menacing and apparently not diminished in the slightest despite the band’s ten year absence. What also struck me is how fearless he was to crowd surf. The band members are almost fifty, and they’re still putting on shows as dangerous and incredible as they did in their heyday. The entire band had a ton of energy, and they got the audience really involved, and not just by means of having people support (and sometimes shove whisky bottles in the face of) Yow. Duane Denison and David Sims have written some of the dirtiest, catchiest riffs in noise rock history, and their live delivery is fast, energetic and compelling. Also, I’ve seen some pretty good drum performances, but I’m going to have to go out on a limb and say Mac McNeilley gets the gold medal for this one. He just beat the living shit out of that kit, and rhythmically propelled everyone both on stage and in the audience. To top it all off, the band played every song I really wanted them to play. This is the show that made me realize what I wanted to make of the rest of the weekend; this weekend I wanted to rock.

How anyone could even begin to try to follow up that show is beyond me, but Built to Spill seemed like a good closer, because not everyone at Pitchfork is into hard rock, and Built to Spill is a little more fun for the whole family. We stayed closer to the back for this one and we didn’t regret it much; not only were we tired but it also seemed like the band’s delivery didn’t differ much from their albums. Granted, Built to Spill are always a treat to listen to, and even listening to them from far away when we were really tired was nice, though not much more exciting than Tortoise. They did end up playing “Else,” possibly my favorite Built to Spill tune, and I was really happy about that.

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On Saturday morning we took the train downtown, got food at Jamba Juice and Potbelly, and got to Union Park in time to catch Plants and Animals, who played a pretty good show. I don’t know them that well and really don’t have much of anything to say about them except that I do remember their drumming was interesting (although not quite as interesting as that of Caribou, who we saw playing on the same stage exactly a year earlier).

I left early to get a good spot for Fucked Up, who played one of the best sets of Saturday. I didn’t have any problem choosing between Fucked Up and The Antlers; the previous day helped me know what I wanted, and I wanted energy. And the energy and coordination which the band exercised during the show was incredible. The entire band seemed excited to be there and played well, but vocalist Damian Abraham took the spotlight. After crushing a half full beer can on his head right before the band started at a sprint with (I believe) “Son the Father,” “Pink Eyes” Abraham quickly de-shirted himself, caught beach balls which he began to bite chunks out of and deflate instantaneously (he wore one of the things as a hat) and jumped down into the press pit to get right next to the audience, where he stayed for most of the show.

These guys really played a loud, fun hardcore punk show, and they dished out a lot of fun antics. Abraham seemed to be a really nice, straightforward guy when he talked to the audience, but when he locked in during a song, he got vicious. I remember him tearing apart a baby doll, and the poor thing’s head whizzed right by my face and landed on the ground. Epic. He also gave the crowd a more than respectable score of 9.9, which as he mentioned was higher than “that Animal Collective album which I thought sounded exactly like Phish.”

After Fucked Up I moved to the Connector Stage to see The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. I have grown to like their debut album a lot. Typical shoegaze, yes, but pretty good shoegaze, and I hoped they could be great in concert. But unfortunately the show was just about the only bad show I saw all weekend. The biggest problem was that everyone just wasn’t loud enough. We could blame this on the festival sound system, which I have heard other complaints about, but The Jesus Lizard had no problem being loud as fuck on the previous day. The guitars, especially, needed to get turned way up. But that wouldn’t really have saved Kip Berman from a glassy-eyed, mediocre vocal performance. It was a lousy show. It happens. I left quite early.

The Balance stage is the smallest stage at the festival, off in the opposite corner of the park as the Aluminum and Connector stages. It is usually the stage that has either the loudest or quietest bands of the festival, and I spent a good half of my time at the festival on Saturday and Sunday at the Balance stage. By the time I got there, Bowerbirds were nearly done with their set and the area was packed, so I couldn’t get close enough to observe anything beyond the fact that they were very quiet and enjoyable enough. But they were followed up by a definite powerhouse, Ponytail, who took full command of the stage. The band’s albums almost beg for a live experience. Instrumentally, Ponytail are only one of the best noise rock bands you’ve ever heard, but when you factor in the vocals, you’ve got a band that doesn’t sound quite like anything else out there. Molly Siegel and Dustin Wong make one of the oddest vocal duos in indie rock, less screaming so much as emoting with animal noises, tongue rolls and martial arts war cries.

Siegel, who donned an awesome lime green Michael Jackson t-shirt on this day (it looked like Jackson was jumping up and down as she did) is the main offender, switching back and forth between distinctive demeanors. The first is when she is screaming at the top of her lungs, and the second is when she is smiling widely, which really brings out the fact that she’s extremely pretty. Then there’s the backward head tilt accompanying an expression which suggests she’s either having some kind of fit or is about to sneeze. The energy and volume at this show was very important and rewarding for fans of Ponytail, because as good as they are on record, they only get better when they play live. When Ponytail lock in, they lock the fuck in, and the show was excellent.

I was excited to see Yeasayer at the Connector stage, just as I was excited to see them six months earlier. I’ve seen Yeasayer a grand total of three times now and each one has been unforgettable. The first-listen home run at Lollapalooza last year left my jaw at my feet, and their show at the Sixth and I Synagogue in Washington D.C. was a show unlike any I’ve ever seen before. Their set at Pitchfork was much like those other two shows and yet somewhat different. Yeasayer still have the chops to put on an engaging and energetic show, but here they played a more relaxed set with a slightly altered lineup (two new members on percussion) and had a couple new songs in store. One of those new songs was a dancey piece that they played just as the weekend’s only, brief rain shower began. Luckily it only lasted long enough to cool everyone off and added to the spiritual effect of the rhythmic piece. The band also played some crowd favorites from their first album All Hour Cymbals, such as “Sunrise” (which accompanied the sun breaking out of the clouds), “2080,” and “Wait for the Summer,” as well as “Tightrope,” which was featured on the Red Hot Organization compilation Dark Was the Night earlier this year.

I went over to the side of the Aluminum Stage with some friends to catch DOOM‘s set, which by the way is a great strategy for seeing acts up close at a festival. That is, just get to the close side of the stage where the audience is thin and you can typically see just as well as if you were front and center, especially for a hip hop act like DOOM who is bound to be towards the front of the stage anyway. So we got pretty close, and actually got to see the masked villain backstage from where we were standing, albeit fifteen minutes later than we should have. When he finally showed up on stage in a guille suit, the large DOOM and his even larger and more involved hype-man got the audience moderately pumped for a show that would befuddle me more than anything.

DOOM’s lyrics and flow are top notch (I still found myself laughing outloud at “Don’t talk about my moms, yo” during “All Caps”) and his backing beats are always sick, but it become obvious after just a few minutes onstage that the tubby menace wasn’t going to do a hell of a lot more than keep his mic close to his face and walk around a little. I enjoyed this enough, because DOOM is a great rapper, but I was hoping for more. And as I would later learn, rumors quickly began to circulate that this was yet another imposter / lip-syncing show. My lack of experience with DOOM’s catalogue and live shows prevents me from being able to lend any credibility to this claim, but if it turned out to be true I would be both disappointed and unsurprised. Regardless of this, DOOM’s show was much like a piano performance at a cocktail shindig, both technically sufficient and unexciting, and did little to add to the context of DOOM as either a recording artist or live performer.

After DOOM, we had a bit of an easygoing half hour or so, taking time to use the restroom (long lines!), get some good food, and listen to Beirut from far away. My remorse for not being up close to Beirut was pretty minimal, not by any means suggesting that they played poorly. Quite the contrary, Beirut sound just as good live as they do on record. But at that point in time, I felt that what these guys were doing on stage was all well and good but just not what I wanted. I wanted loud. It was about then that I made a pretty one-sided decision between the day’s headliners, The National (who I skipped at Lollapalooza last year for Love and Rockets) and The Black Lips (who, also at Lollapalooza last year, put one of the weekend’s best shows). We decided to run over to the Balance Stage so that we could try to get a good spot for the Atlanta hooligans.

To our surprise, Matt & Kim hadn’t yet gotten on stage by the time we got there. They were almost a half hour late, dwarfing DOOM’s delay. We got pretty close to the stage and I’m glad we did, because when the NYC duo got on stage, they put on one of the absolute best shows of the weekend. I can’t imagine a two-piece band doing more damage than these guys. They looked like they wouldn’t have rather been anywhere else in the world then on the stage at that time, they were funny, they were nice, they talked to the audience, and they gave their everything for the entire set. Matt screamed and played the keyboard as energetically as anyone I have ever seen, and Kim smiled a wide smile and just beat the living shit out of her kit. Seriously, she played those drums hard. You see some people really pull back their arms to hit the drums, and so often it’s all show, and you can tell just by looking at them. But Kim was pulling back far because she was killing those things.

There was also a shocking sincerity at the show: Matt did a handstand only to remind us afterward that he’s still wearing a back brace that his mother makes fun of him for, and Kim told us that the Beyonce show they attended was incredible and proceeded to get low onstage. There was so much energy in this show and so many great songs: “Yea Yeah,” “Daylight,” “Lightspeed,” “Cutdown,” “Good Ol’ Fashioned Nightmare”… Watching Matt & Kim as the sun was setting was an absolute pleasure and one of the best concert experiences I’ve ever had. And the main reason for this is because they got it across to me that they were having just as much fun as I was.

Once again, it’s not easy to follow a truly awesome band like that, but The Black Lips don’t give a shit about anyone’s expectations of them. Their show at Pitchfork was much more of a balls-out punk show than when I saw them last at Lollapalooza. That show, as excellent as it was, was more of a traditional festival show, because Lollapalooza is a high brow festival that really keeps their bands in line. But when you put a punk band on a small stage like the Balance Stage, shenanigans become possible, and the Black Lips are known for their antics. Some of those antics included a smashed guitar after the first song, the typical man-on-man making out between guitarists, inviting the crowd onstage against the Pitchfork staff’s wishes, and spraying a fire extinguisher into the press pit. One of my good friends and Black Lips enthusiast claimed that these acts seemed planned out, and they very well may have been, but only by the band themselves; that guy getting screamed at backstage by security was definitely not planned.

And to be fair, the antics at a show like this are as much part of the experience as the music itself, which was loud and rowdy as well. There is definitely something to be said for a show that feels this edgy and dangerous. These guys have found their identity, and unlike Matt & Kim, they might actually benefit from going out there on stage and being grumpy and mean and violent. But they weren’t, and we remember that the Black Lips are as much entertainers as they are punks. “I like my audience a little closer to me than this,” said guitarist Jared Swilley before inviting the crowd on stage. Some of them made it up there, and some of them got leveled by security, but I’ll be damned if all of us didn’t wish we could have at least tried. The band were a very good choice for a headliner and put on a really fun show.

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On the morning of Day 3 of the festival, we arrived downtown pretty damn tired, which isn’t unreasonable for Day 3 of any festival. We decided to have lunch at Wishbone, and on the way there we met up with Yeasayer bassist Ira Wolf Tuton. Of course we didn’t have much to say to him except “you played a great show!” and he probably didn’t want to waste his time with us, but he was really nice and shook our hands.

After coffee, eggs, pancakes and potatoes, we were off to Union Park again and got there in time to catch Blitzen Trapper. I thought they played pretty well, but I’m going to be honest, I really don’t remember much of anything about them, and I did remember a lot of other first-listen buzz bands that weekend. Nice folk melodies. That doesn’t really help you much, does it? By this time in the weekend, my appetite for loud music was still in full force and I was just kind of bored with folk music.

Organized Konfusion member Pharoahe Monch was my next show at the Connector Stage, and he was definitely the better of the two hip hop shows this weekend. It helped that his DJ was a lot of fun and very skillful, unlike a lot of the other live DJs I have seen, but Monch really took the show. To me, it’s important for a hip hop artist to hype up the show, but doing it too much is just annoying. The other two hip hop shows I’ve seen this year were very polarized and both less than what I was expecting. Mos Def was far too much hype and DOOM was far too much substance, but Monch struck the balance between these elements with ease, spitting rhymes and moving around as well as getting the audience to raise their hands and sing along when they didn’t already know the words. We also see the rare case of other on-stage singers really contributing a lot to the show. I don’t know who the backup singers were, but they were funny and sang great. This was what a hip hop show should be like: fun. For all I knew, DOOM didn’t care about the show he was playing. But Monch seemed really happy to rock Chicago, and we were happy to have him.

Up next were Sub Pop punks The Thermals. To my surprise, I heard more complaints about The Thermals than any other band at Pitchfork this year. What happened to a little respect? I thought these guys were great, and you know what, I love a little pop-punk and was happy to hear their set. Samesy? Alright, I can see that. It started to get a little bit like that for me, but I’m not really familiar with their output. But for another band I’d never heard before, I definitely got a lot of fun out of their show. I’m guessing they took into consideration that not everybody in the audience had heard them before, so they played a lot of awesome covers which tickled my ’90s alt-rock fancy, specifically songs by Sonic Youth (“100%”), Nirvana (holy shit, “Sappy”!), Green Day (“Basket Case”) and The Breeders (“Saints”). So yes, maybe they weren’t the most exciting band on Sunday, but they were good enough for me to want to look into them further.

The Walkmen may have been the classiest band of the entire weekend. And I’m not sure exactly why I think this. Maybe it is because they are by this time indie rock veterans, or maybe it was how well dressed they were, or it could be their seasoned, classic style, or perhaps their calm demeanor that contrasted with their spirited playing. Whatever the reason, this band just got up there and sounded like a million bucks. First and foremost, frontman Hamilton Leithauser has charisma, and he makes his excellent vocals seem cool and composed, but definitely not effortless. While belting out the harder lyrics on songs like “The Rat,” you can really tell that he’s working hard. The band mostly played songs from their latest album, the tropical You & Me, which as far as I’m concerned is all for the better, because I think it’s their best album yet. For a few songs, they even brought out a horn section, and some songs like “In The New Year” got really strong crowd response. What was great about The Walkmen, among other things, was that they could be emotional, loud and fun as well as professional.

I spent the next two hours or so at the Balance stage, and I showed pretty late in garage-rock band Japandroids‘ set, which was a damn shame because what I saw of them I liked an awful lot. Another two piece band (I seem to take a big liking to two-piece rock bands), the couple minutes I saw of them really rocked hard and provided some really memorable tunes. Seeing the guitarist up above the drummer, practically as one unit, really got me excited. So kudos to them for only needing three minutes to get me going; they have my attention and interest.

After this set my back and legs were pretty tired, so I allocated myself in front of a tree. So I would both have something to lean on and my height wouldn’t get in anyone’s way. I watched the Vivian Girls from afar, for the second time actually. The first time I saw them they opened for M. Ward at the Sixth and I Synagogue and I don’t think I gave them nearly as much credit as they deserved. The Vivian Girl’s music and live shows are covertly excellent. I thought their show in D.C. was fun but for whatever reason, I wasn’t feeling it that night and I made the assumption that the Vivian Girls were another sub-par garage rock band.

But I soon found that their debut album from last year is just incredible, but very humbly so, and their music didn’t really click with me until I sat down and gave it my full attention. So I jumped at the chance to give their live show another chance and I’m glad I did. Granted, the Vivian Girls are a band that doesn’t particularly benefit from the festival setting. They are a fast and loud punk band and the sound translates better in small indoor venues, and their stage presence is pretty simple. They rock hard and they’re fun to watch, but they don’t offer anything particularly exciting. So this show was pretty relaxed and less about what they could provide for me, and more about what I owed them. When I think about it, that’s not what a show should be like, but I try not to think too hard about shows like this. They make it easy for me to sit back and enjoy myself.

After Vivian Girls on the Balance Stage were Danish rockers Mew, which to me seemed like a bit of a weird pick for the festival. Maybe I only say that because because their genres are very far away from one another despite the fact that they work well together. Dream pop isn’t out of P4Ks interests but progressive rock typically is. In any case, Mew were about as polished looking as The Walkmen, and their set was similarly orchestrated. The songs aren’t much different live than on record, but they’re still a treat to see be performed. There was an air of confidence at this show during songs like “Special” and “The Zookeeper’s Boy” that definitely strengthened my love for them, when at points in my history with Mew there would be moments where I would say to myself “Am I supposed to be loving this?”

Yes, they have pretty faces, and yes, they are shamelessly as much of a pop band as they are a rock band, but their live sound really affirmed Duke Ellington’s famous ultimatum: “If it sounds good, it is good.” Mew sound great live, and though they may not be doing backflips on stage, they look like they are enjoying themselves and their communication with one another is interesting. Their new songs are also fascinating. “Introducing Palace Players” is a damaged, experimental rock tune, and if it is any indication of their new album’s quality or ambition, then we have a lot to look forward to. Also worthy of note is that these guys put on one of the loudest shows of the weekend. How they got that bass tone is beyond me. It rocketed out of the speakers without being rumbling or intrusive on the treble, and it permeated the air around the Connector and Aluminum stages, all the way across Union Park.

And that’s where I was after about half of Mew’s set, so I could listen to Grizzly Bear as well as get a decent spot for the Flaming Lips. Unfortunately, I really can’t say much of anything about Grizzly Bear. I like them well enough, but they were an afterthought to me compared to the band’s that flanked them in my schedule. I’m not big enough of a fan to say that much about their show, especially as viewed from far away, except they had several foot tappers and I liked them just fine.

But everyone knew what the highlight of the festival was going to be. It was apparent from the minute they were announced in the lineup and visualized that morning when The Flaming Lips‘ giant orange stage was already towering on the Aluminum Stage. And by the time the Lips got on stage, their setup was, as expected, like nothing any of us had seen before, unless we had already seen a Flaming Lips show. But with that said, what was on the Aluminum stage was almost light years ahead of their setup at the Earth Day Festival on the National Mall. The Flaming Lips had an entire day to set this up and had just about no limits as to what they could or could not do. There is really no way to communicate the band’s unique elements unless I forthrightly list them:

The giant light screen was dazzling and mostly showcased dancing naked women. One of these women went into birthing position and The Flaming Lip’s descended from her incandescent vagina. They were joined on stage by people dressed up in frog and cat suits, and later, a giant gorilla which lead singer Wayne Coyne rode on the back of. And how can we forget the giant bubble which Coyne crowd surfs in? Confetti. Shitloads of confetti blasting from cannons. And balloons. Lots of balloons.

The visual aspect of a Flaming Lips show is enough to make it a spectacle, but like last time I saw them, the real deciding factor was the music itself. The Flaming Lips were the fifth and final band to adhere to the “Write the Night” and ultimately the one that decided it’s overall outcome. The Flaming Lip’s have notoriously played just about the same set with few switchups for years. Getting them on the Write the Night roster would have ideally forced them to dig out some obscurities from their back catalogue, but as probably everyone expected and as Coyne explained, voting list in hand, everyone knows what the most popular Flaming Lips songs are, and they almost always play them anyway.

But the band seemed to get the general gist of how everyone could benefit from this system, and they did pull out some obscure numbers, specifically “Bad Days” off of Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, “Enthusiasm for Life Defeats Internal Existential Fear” (yeah, you heard me) from the Fearless Freaks compilation, and even “Mountain Side” from In a Priest-Driven Ambulance. In addition to these rarities, the band also performed two new songs from their forthcoming double album Embryonic, the tribal “Silver Trembling Hands” and the jam “Convinced of the Hex.” Reception of the new songs seems to be very mixed, but my personal opinion is that they are a good sign for a return to the Lips’ earlier styles. These songs made this show pretty unique for the Flaming Lips, but there were still some familiar sights and sounds.

The band also played their more popular songs and live staples: “Race for the Prize,” “Fight Test,” “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song,” “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1,” “She Don’t Use Jelly” and “Do You Realize??” all made appearances, and many were delivered in the same way that caused me to complain about the last Flaming Lips show I attended. Three and a half of those aforementioned songs were drawn out singalongs. Which brings me to my biggest problem with the Flaming Lips’ live show. They waste too much time. Wayne Coyne, despite the fact that we would all go nuts over him blowing his nose, talks too much on stage, and the singalongs just get annoying and see the rest of the band sitting around not doing anything, waiting for the next song. When they do go full on instrumental, the band sounds incredible, and I can only imagine how awesome live, full electric versions of songs like “Fight Test” and “She Don’t Use Jelly” would sound. I can only imagine, because I’ll probably never see them. The band’s setlist seemed over before it started with eleven songs total, a teaser for all the setup that it no doubt took.

But when all is said and done, there is still no live act even remotely like The Flaming Lips, for better or worse. They look, sound, and feel completely unique. They aren’t perfect, but they would never pretend they are. They want their audience to be involved and have a fun time, and no one gets their audience involved and having fun quite like The Flaming Lips. Despite my complaints, it’s a show you’re going to want to see at least once, if not as many times as possible.

♦♦♦

Overall, Pitchfork Music Festival 2009 was an overwhelming success and really pushed the festival to the upper echelons of Summer music festivals to get excited about. There is more than just a little for everyone, and this year’s festival was particularly awesome. It may not get as many big names as festivals like, say, Lollapalooza, but this works to it’s advantage, and it ends up a more focused, energetic, manageable festival experience. Even though 2009 was only the festival’s forth year, it feels like it has been around much longer. The quality of the festival already rivals or even surpasses other Summer Chicago music festivals, and if Pitchfork can manage to keep it a comparably low-key, controlled explosion of great music, we’re still at the beginning of the event’s golden years.

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Earth Day Festival

April 20, 2009

I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything in a long time. I’ve kind of been having a rough couple of weeks. Beyond it being the final paper rush and the start of the time in which I really need to crack down on studying for finals, I also have a kidney stone which has pretty much been the bane of my existence for the past week in a half. I have been in ER three times and otherwise been in a great deal of pain or distraction due to medication, so things just haven’t been conducive to writing. With that said, I’m feeling a little better now and thought I would check in briefly.

Today (yesterday I guess considering it is after midnight now) was a good break. It will be the fortieth annual Earth Day on Wednesday, and in celebration of the event, the Earth Day Foundation held the Green Apple Festival in major cities throughout the country this weekend, with different musical artists performing to crowds of the “Green Generation.” Not surprisingly, Washington DC got the most sizable and significant lineup: DJ Spooky, Los Lobos, moe., and The Flaming Lips were the musical artists that the crowds got to see on the National Mall in front of the Capitol Building.

The format of the festival was frustrating, to say the least- about half of it consisted of environmentalists and famous people (no less a still completely unfunny Chevy Chase) speaking/screaming about the importance of the “Green Generation” to an unresponsive audience. It is hard to say how much the audience actually cared about the environment, but it is doubtful that any of the speakers really made an impact. For the most part, they spent too much time talking about how importang “going green” and having green jobs are, but they said almost nothing about how people can do their part on the individual level. The exception was a guy who mentioned how much riding bikes can help the environment- fair enough. But in general, the speakers were only tasks to go through on the way to the musical acts.

I arrived a little before Los Lobos came on stage, who played very well. I don’t know much about their legacy, but for a thirty-five year old band, they sure put on a fun, energetic show, and were one of the highlights of the day. DJ Spooky’s thankfully brief set consisted mostly of Radiohead and Jimi Hendrix samples, poor scratching, and footage of Antarctica. I’m not really much for jam bands, so moe. didn’t impress me much, but they had some pretty cool guitar solos. Keep in mind, for all of this, the price doesn’t get better- completely free.

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But all of us knew who we were there for. The Flaming Lips took a long time setting up, but this is pretty understandable; the band is known for their elaborate sets, and ultimately the wait was well worth it. Wayne Coyne came up on stage and talked to the audience during the long setup, which he also apologized for, but I’m pretty sure no one would have held it against him if he didn’t apologize. The truth of it is, I’ll bet the festival setup for the FLips is difficult. There is an awful lot to set up in a short amount of time, the audience has to watch them doing it, and they don’t have the benefits of their typical shows, which include projectors and UFOs which are hard to pull off at a festival.

Even considering their repertoire was probably curtailed, the wait was more than well rewarded: the stage theatrics included the notorious crowd-surfing hamster ball, a lights-flashing gong, dancers in costume, smoke machines, strobe lights, the giant hands and confetti blasters. The confetti was of particular concern, which Coyne addressed right after the band’s first song, “Race for the Prize,” in which they were utilized. According to him, they were told not to use them at the show in spirit of Earth Day and not polluting, but they did it anyway. He made it very clear that he trusted us to pick up the confetti after the show, and if Wayne Coyne tells me to jump, I ask how high, and just about everyone around me did their part afterwards in helping to pick up the confetti.

It might seem like these antics are all frosting on the cake, but I’m a strong believer that audience involvement is a wonderful thing for a live show, and it is hard to pull off. The bottom line is that no one gets anywhere close to audience involvement like The Flaming Lips, and that is a wonderful, important thing. The visual fun of their shows go hand in hand with the music, which was just as impressive as I was expecting. What really struck me in particular was the drumming of Kliph Scurlock, who hammered away at that kit when the opportunity provided and added an important element of energy to the music.

The band played a very rounded set, playing some older tunes as well as some newer ones. Granted, it’s not like I was expecting any really obscure songs, but they played “Lightning Strikes the Postman” off of Clouds Taste Metallic and a cover of Madonna’s “Borderline,” quite nice surprises. And of course they played the hits, such as “She Don’t Use Jelly,” “Fight Test,” and “Do You Realize??” These are singalong classics, which makes Coyne’s decision to make them singalongs at their concerts justified, but they did this a grand total of five times, sometimes for entire songs, and by the last one I was getting a little sick of it. I would have much rather that the band went all out on Fight Test and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, but seeing these songs performed live was a gift, and it’s up to them how they want to do it.

In any case, the Flaming Lips are an incredible live band, and I thoroughly enjoyed this show and look forward to enjoying them yet again at the Pitchfork Festival over the Summer. Expect to have a full critique of the lineup once all of it becomes available…I’m thinking we are missing a headliner for Saturday, so I’d like to wait until that is known. Also, I’ll be seeing Spoon next weekend, and that will probably be worth writing about. I wrote down the setlist to today’s Lips show, which is as follows:

Race For the Prize
Lightning Strikes the Postman
Fight Test
Borderline (Madonna Cover)
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1
Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung
The W.A.N.D.
She Don’t Use Jelly
Do You Realize??

EDIT: Also, I apologize for the lack of Radio Cure last week. I had to cancel the show because of my illness. This Wednesday will be the last Radio Cure of the semester, so make sure not to miss it- the playlist is going to be lots of fun.

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The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

February 21, 2009
The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

The Soft Bulletin may have been the most accomplished album by the Flaming Lips, but it certainly was not the last great album by the bizarre troubadours. Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots is the most advanced the band’s sound has ever been, and yet another wonderful set of songs that meld together into a grand, cohesive album. But also in its possession are some of the bands most immediate and touching  singles, which The Soft Bulletin does not quite deliver in as great a breadth.  “Fight Test,” “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1,” “Ego Tripping At The Gates of Hell,” “It’s Summertime,” and of course the timeless classic “Do You Realize?” are all in the run for both catchiest and most sophisticated pop songs ever. The lyrical content is miraculously quite universal. The opening “Fight Test” introduces an immediately challenging moral dilemma which even philosophers might have a tough time wrestling with, while many of the album’s other songs deal with both the robotic and human emotional sides of the said Battle. Only one of the world’s most talented bands could ever make an album about such magical content so heartwarming and close to the human condition.

The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips

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Review Shuffle (11 this time)

May 7, 2007

I know I said last time that I would do some more complaining next time I did an album shuffle.

Yeah, about that. I think I have complained more comparatively at least. Most all of these are still albums I like though, but I find if I complain too much I am just dismal and if I rave too much I end up having no strong taste, at least as it appears. I have two reviews in the works, one an album that I don’t really like and one that I really love. I also have a lot of new albums that have come out this year so I’ll review a lot of that stuff too. For some reason this year I have just been picking up tons of new albums which I don’t usually do. This is mostly all old stuff though.

The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin

I really never got around to getting all the way through this album until very recently. It was one of the albums that just felt like a task to get all the way through although I knew in the first place that it was pretty damn good. This still isn’t one of my favorite Flaming Lips albums, but in any case The Soft Bulletin is very important and popular for a reason. Most all of the songs are very nice little melodies, but simply aren’t expanded upon adequately. What makes some of the Lips’ songs so great is how big and huge they are, and a lot of times, the songs here just don’t develop like they should and are fairly two dimensional, making the album potentially wonderful but kind of dry in the end. But there are some great songs here, and it is an album worth getting to know. Lyrically this is just fantastic. Wayne Coyne is more inspired here than ever and it seems like every song he has awesome line after awesome line, my favorite being “it takes a year to make a day/and I’m feeling like a float on the Macy’s Day Parade” from Slow Motion. Highlights are not few, but once again, everything should have been a highlight if they could have just added some more to each track to make them like the bonus remixes, if that makes any sense. But what really impressed me about this is the sheer command they have over strings in general and their ability to color a song any way they like. This is a good record and is one of the Flaming Lips’ most revered, and I think fans of 90s rock and alternative should really check this out. I don’t know what the deal is with all the different issues of this album though… I think one of them comes with a bonus disk, another with some bonus tracks, and then different versions got either Slow Motion or the Spiderbite Song, both of which are great. Shop around a little and do some research before you buy this one because you will really want the bonus tracks, two wonderful remixes of Race for the Prize and Waitin’ for a Superman as well as a great little tune Buggin’. In short, this is a damn good album showcasing The Flaming Lips’ unique style, but it pales in comparison to Yoshimi.

Aerosmith – Big Ones

I think the majority of the reason I appreciate this is because I listened to it so much as a kid. I basically refused to listen to anything except for The Beatles, this, and the Good Burger soundtrack on a ludicrously long trip to Colorado from Chicago, so I got to know this collection pretty well. People always view Aerosmith as being this really elementary mediocre mainstream rock, but they were really very capable of writing some great songs. This is specifically the best of the bands middle career, which had it’s ups and downs. It seems like about half of this is tough, well written hard rock while the other half is bullshit balladry, most of which is done pretty poorly and I don’t appreciate that much. Specifically Cryin’ and Crazy are alright by sleazy early 90s pop standards, but even then this collection feels too split. But I think it was worth it, considering Aerosmith had just as many good songs in their mid career as they did in the beginning. It’s definitely not all good, but whenever I crank the volume on songs like Rag Doll or Love In an Elevator, or even Eat The Rich, I get some really good nostalgia going on. For me, getting this and the original Aerosmith Greatest Hits is really all I need.

Bob Dylan – Masterpieces

Considering that putting together a Bob Dylan compilation is extremely hard, this three disk Japanese import does the job pretty well for Dylan’s early to mid career. I guess I’m not a huge Dylan fan so I’m not familiar with all of his albums, but this was a good launching point for me into a downright imposing discography. Any release like this runs the risk of not including enough or including too much, and this does miss a few really good ones while including a few questionable songs too (I personally loathe Tears of Rage). But when it comes to Bob Dylan, really it is all about personal preference, and people are going to find songs they love that most are indifferent about and songs they hate that most love. If you want to get into Bob Dylan, stopping here would be the worst thing you could do, because the albums themselves are what hold strength. With that said, you will never get a definitive answer as to where to start in that respect. People will say Freewheelin’, Blonde on Blonde, Highway 61, Bringing it All Back Home, Blood on the Tracks… There is no easy way to dig into this artists body of work, and the only options are to dig and keep digging or simply not get a full picture. But this compilation rustles up some essentials to round off whenever you decide to stop digging, which will happen if this is justified in the first place.

Various Artists – Aqua Teen Hunger Force

To be honest (as if I’m not honest all the time), I haven’t even seen the Aqua Teen movie yet. I really want to and I have been meaning too and it feels like I have been waiting to for years, but all of my friends saw it without me so I guess I’m kind of screwed. I would consider myself and all of my friends to be pretty big Aqua Teen fans anyway, so I think one of them might crack and end up seeing it with me for their second run. I was with one of these such friends at Best Buy browsing for CDs on sale, because god forbid now that Tower Records is closed the only place nearby with a decent selection is Best Buy. I found something I wanted, and then noticed a copy of The Velvet Underground and Nico on sale for ten dollars. I figured it was an album I had been meaning to listen to for a long time, and I had it in my hand when one of my friends came up.

“Dude, DUDE! You need to buy this for me. I promise I’ll pay you back when we get back to my place. I NEED to get this.”

I’m a nice guy. So I ended up buying the soundtrack to the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie over The Velvet Underground and Nico. You all finally have an excuse to string me up by the balls with a piano wire, because I know you were all looking for one.

At any rate, this is about what I expected. I don’t think I could have possibly had high expectations for something like this in the first place anyway. But this suffers the same fate as many other movie soundtracks do by simply not having that many songs on it. A good chunk of the soundtrack is comprised of dialog from the shows characters, only a little of which is any good. Namely, Master Shake’s touching rendition of “Nude Love.” Beyond that, the disk is about equal parts silly rap, hardcore metal, and humorous shorts. Some highlights are the humorous original song by Mastadon “Cut You Up With a Linoleum Knife” where the singer threatens to dissolve any movie piraters testicles, Nine Pound Hammer (the ones who did the 12 oz. Mouse theme song) doing Carl’s Theme, and the ridiculously bass heavy ATHF classic I Want Candy. The album can be, at times, very funny, and even I laughed out loud at a reference to a movie I have not even seen yet, “I Like Your Booty (But I’m Not Gay)”. What I don’t understand is how The Hold Steady got on here. Total crap.

Considering I didn’t really pay for this, I can’t say I’m too disappointed. It’s for the fans, that’s for sure, and if you didn’t already know that then don’t even think about buying this. If you were really ever seriously considering buying the soundtrack to the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie, you know what you are getting into and could act on that accordingly.

The Album Leaf – In A Safe Place

With In A Safe Place, The Album Leaf has crafted an album that is geared towards a very specific purpose, but luckily that purpose is fulfilled with good to great success. To say that this album is good to fall asleep to might not be such a horrible insult, because it is obvious that this was made to be relaxing enough to fall asleep to. These melodies are relaxing, comforting, and most of all warm, and as the title declares, this music was mostly made to relax and melt troubles away at least for the span of a decent sized album. And really, it is quite impressive how much Jimmy LaValle accomplishes in a little over fifty minutes without really shifting his style much. At points, the goal is changed and the music becomes too tense to really relax too but at the same time it ends up being charming and abrasive nonetheless. Some songs like Window, Over The Pond (featuring Jonsi of Sigur Ros no less), and Streamside are absolutely gorgeous in how relaxing and warm they really are, and at other times songs develop with careful precision into beautiful soaring melodies. I think the production on this album is the biggest problem I had. I didn’t like the beats half the time, but they did end up successfully creating relaxing breakbeats, a monumental oxymoron in the ambient world. Also, some of the songs are just kind of dull and meandering, and to be honest, the album repeats itself and does not really develop or switch anything up. The delicate strings are downright wonderful though, and this album has interested me enough to go see the “band” live later this month. For it’s specific purpose, dream incubation and relaxation, this album achieves impressive heights.

The Melvins – Houdini

I find it very difficult to talk about The Melvins. The Melvins are just what they are. Just about every adjective you think you can describe them with can be refuted, and every positive or negative conjecture can be easily reversed. The only way to tell if you like The Melvins is to listen to them, and probably to start with Houdini. That said, Houdini might not be the most popular album the band ever made, for obvious reasons. For one thing it is startlingly coherent and actually recognizable as a set of songs that have their own identities. This is about as pure as they have ever been, whatever that means. But even when they are at the closest they have ever been to “pop,” they are still miles away. Most of these songs are dirty metallic sludge, and they still prove themselves as being one of the bands that truly held the Grunge movement up. The sheer quality of this album kind of overshadows how the band usually writes music, that is, with the intention of shocking and at times apalling, but there are still some comfortably obnoxious moments, such as Pearl Bomb and Sky Pup. But for the most part this is a really heavy sludge album that usually makes sense, and it packs in a lot of really heavy, really headbanging moments and is probably the centerfold of The Melvins’ long ongoing career. The album surprisingly sticks together and does not have too many disposable moments, but I think the standout songs are the first five in particular, as well as some great ones later like Joan of Arc.

Bjork – Homogenic

Approaching the catalog of an artist as prestigious as Bjork is very difficult, and at first glance new listeners would want to stray from Homogenic in exchange for an album where she looks prettier on the cover. But this album is definitely one of her most serious, moving works and should be an eventual purchase for even casual fans. For the record, this is generally argued to be her best album, and although it may not be easy to listen to at first, the album stands out as being great if you can manage to give it a bit of a chance to open up. From the beginning dynamics of Hunter to the final touching words of All Is Full of Love, most everything on this album is very good and melodies are used to their full potential. But while this album pushes Bjork’s songwriting ability to impressive lengths, it also expands her vocal finesse to it’s most beautiful lengths. Her range and technique are wonderful as usual, but the amount of feeling she puts into her singing is what makes the album truly shine. I think the only problem anyone could ever have with her singing is her distinct Icelandic accent, which to some is wonderful while annoying to others. In any case, Bjork has enough talent to put tingles down even her critics spines. The album’s clear highlight and strongest radio song is without a doubt Bachellorette, an unspeakably moving melancholy orchestral explosion. The consistancy of this is also surprisingly reliable, and although songs like Alarm Call and Pluto are comparitively weaker, the album stays true to it’s unique style of icy melodies dotted with electronic touches. It may not be the easiest Bjork album, but if you simply want to go for the throat and nothing more, this will be the one you want to get.

William Hung – Inspiration

With all due respect, if you accuse William Hung of being a bad singer, you have missed the point entirely and you need to re-evaluate your opinions. The title “inspiration” is one of the biggest understatements in years. I don’t know if there is anything here that is not inspiring. The fact that William Hung, WILLIAM HUNG got a record deal when in fact most American Idol qualifiers don’t get close is inspiring. His sense of humor is inspiring, and unbelievably huge. The fact that he has the balls to make a record like this is inspiring. And to be sure, his little interludes are inspiring too. People forget that whatever Sanjaya winning could have proved, William Hung proved twice as much either way. I can’t bear to call this bad music, mostly because I just have too much fun listening to this. The song selection is actually pretty great, although not all of the songs are key. That is about the only room for improvement that this album missed. In any case, the renditions of She Bangs, I Believe I Can Fly, Hotel California, and Rocket Man are about as good as it gets. William Hung is actually singing his heart out on all of this, so the original hit She Bangs wasn’t just a one time fluke. William Hung is William Hung. And nothing is going to change that. And as much as people like Kelly Clarkson giggle in his face and throw him over their shoulder, the truth is obvious. Fifty years from now, people are not going to remember Kelly Clarkson. People are going to remember William Hung, and THAT is truly an amazing accomplishment.

Sly and the Family Stone – Greatest Hits

Not being completely familiar with Sly and the Family Stone’s discography, I can really say almost nothing as to the validity of this disk as a collection. But what I will say is that upon first listen, this blew me away. It is almost unbelievable how many of these songs have quietly, and others not so quietly, become a part of our culture, and all of these songs are fantastic and memorable. Sometimes the problem is that the songs end too fast, just when the listener starts to be for more, but that makes this even more fun and irresistible to explore.What Sly did upon the making of this music is remarkable. The songs are catchy, fun, and energetic as well as skillfully played, but at the same time they really mean something and teach valuable lessons without sounding like they are preaching morals. Sly and the Family Stone are one of those bands that I would really love to get to know better, because I do know that they are one of the best at their kind and masters of soul and funk. But I can imagine if you need a starting point to get acquainted with this wonderful music, Greatest Hits is more than appropriate. I am pretty sure that all the biggest hits are included here, and you have almost certainly heard more than one. At least one or two more songs could have been included here, but I guess that says even more about the clarity and modesty here, a quality which most Greatest Hits collections sadly lack.

Eiffel 65 – Europop

I remember Europop well, and I remember liking it a lot. And now looking back, I can’t deny that this is severely under par music. The vocals are especially bad, but really the whole production is, and the hooks make a mockery out of the genre. But unfortunately, this album is noteworthy, even relevant. One has to have something going for them if they can construct a pop song as brilliant (although annoying as all hell) as Blue. The song’s power on the radio really can’t be downplayed effectively and for a brief period crashed sleazy dance into the mainstream. The songs are unfortunately memorable, which is weird, but maybe it is really only because of the nostalgic value this album has for me. But at the same time, most everything here is cringeworthy and ridiculous. As much as I would love to, I cannot forget Too Much Heaven, Livin’ In A Bubble, My Console (GOOD GOD) and Silicon World. As much as I hate this now, the songs have good hooks. And I do not think I have the right to completely tear apart an album that sold as much as this did. In short, this is a chunk of the dance genre breaking off and making noise on mainstream radio, which was actually a big deal because mainstream dance became more and more relevant because of it, even if it was justified by just one juggernaut of a song.

Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy

Houses of The Holy is just…one of those albums. One of those albums that everyone seems to like and I just cannot figure out why. It is pretty much split between good and startlingly bad, and for a Led Zeppelin album this is about as bad as it gets in the early career. But with that said, the album still has a nice selection of good songs. The Song Remains the Same is an interesting ethnic epic that does it’s job pretty well, but Robert Plant falters here, like he does on most of the album. The Rain Song and Over the Hills and Far Away are two of Led Zep’s absolute best acoustic moments and are priceless treasures that haven’t aged a bit unlike their predecessor. The Crunge is usually cited as being the albums worst track, but to be sure it’s a nice little groove while unfortunately completely unnecessary. The next two songs are downright horrible. Dancing Days was an already tired riff that amounts to even less when Robert Plant takes the stage with the least melodic vocals of his career, a complete embarrassment. D’yer Mak’er is a sad attempt at Reggae, and it’s so bad that John Bonham refused to play it live he hated it so much. The last two tracks are alright though, No Quarter is a nice outing into the avant-garde written by John Paul Jones, and The Ocean is the necessary riff rocker to keep the album on it’s feet considering the mediocrity that came before it. I’m a huge Led Zeppelin fan, but even I’ll admit that this album feels like a missed opportunity and a mixed collection of b-sides. Casual listeners should be encouraged not to give up here, because the band did come back with great success on their next album, but this is one of the weaker in the discography.

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The Flaming Lips – At War With The Mystics

October 19, 2006

Alright, so sue me. I’m many months late on this one. I almost always am, when I think about it. I’m constantly talking about stuff that was realeased a long time ago, but I really suppose that this is okay. I already did Yoshimi, so I figure that I kind of owe it to this one to review it.

I felt like I really had to get this for whatever reason. Ever since The Soft Bulletin came out so many years ago, the attitude and shape of The Flaming Lips’ music changed dramatically, and for the better, into a more sensitive and gorgeous sound of touching meaningful music, while the eclectic ideas and lyrics were still preserved. Fricking great move, to be honest with you. The addition of orchestral bits onto many of the songs is beautiful. This album isn’t as much a testament or a big beautiful body of music as Bulletin and Yoshimi were, but it is still a grand addition to the Lips’ library of music by supplying the listener with a lot of great music.

I think the mood is a lot more relaxed and less structured around hooks and more around wistful long winded mood pieces than it’s sister albums. And it’s not too difficult to compare it to it’s siblings. Yoshimi always seemed to me to be a daytime sort of album, and in comparrison this album is much more oriented with the night. You can see some simmilarities to older Lips’ material with songs such as Yeah Yeah Yeah Song, one of the standout tracks. Simmilarities to Bulletin are about as much as Yoshimi honestly, because that album set the stage for all of the bands subsequent material. Most of the songs are more mellow chill-out songs, which is exactly the opposite of what I was expecting. Having “At War” in the title sort of implies a more upbeat type thing to me at least, and I was expecting it to be a very fast moving album.

I’m pretty happy with it though, and everyone else I know who has it seems to like it too. Most people I have talked to about it have either said that they thought they didn’t quite give it enough of a chance, or that it was growing on them. My Latin teacher is a big Lips fan, and he says he liked At War With The Mystics more than The Soft Bulletin.

Really, this is as eclectic a Flaming Lips album as any, so there is no point in me trying to sum it up, because everyone knows that when it comes to this band, it’s brilliant parts are really what make the whole so gorgeous. I guess what you need to remember is by this time, the band has established a signature sound and knack for making songs that sound interesting and different even to the most avid of fans that have come to expect the unexpected.

The first song of interest is, once again, Yeah Yeah Yeah Song, which is very simmilar to the sound of Transmissions in many ways. You get the feeling that Wayne Coynes voice is gradually getting worse, but really, this is the first time it shows. On Yoshimi he sounded great, so what can you do? It doesn’t sound bad, just a tad different. But Yeah Yeah Yeah Song is a very clever little tune, and lyrically it talks about what the listener (or maybe the singer) would do if he had opportunities to do things of great power. It’s probably political, but because this is a band who knows how to approach serious issues in a sensitive and lighthearted way, no sound or feelings are gotten in the way of due to politics. They would just never let that happen.

I guess the albums hookier moments are some of it’s strongest. Yeah Yeah Yeah Song is not the only obvious standout. It Overtakes Me is a segmented piece, the first of which would surely get some good radio play. I would have appreciated it more if this song was split up into two, and actually also the same with The Sound Of Failure. But really, it doesn’t matter that much. I’m no stickler for organization, and anyone who knows me can vouch for that. Mr. Ambulance Driver has a great tune too, and is probably the most likely to get radio play due to the mildly strange nature of Yeah Yeah Yeah Song and It Overtakes Me. I guess the only problem with that would be the lingering ambulance sound in the background that would probably spawn a lawsuit. The song is a joy to listen to, a very touching and contemplative piece that is perfect for a late night mood shift with equally inspired and serious lyrics. I can safely say that this is truly one of The Flaming Lip’s finest and most touching moments.
A lot of this album is more psychedelic and trippy, and most of the songs are longer more atmospheric pieces, the best of which is Vein of Stars, an absolutely gorgeous song that evokes images just as beautiful as the name suggests. My Cosmic Rebellion develops in a more gentle way, but very much in the same medium sized beautiful way that Vein of Stars does. Some other highlights include the shorter more groovable tracks, such as The Wizard Turns On… and Haven’t Got A Clue. Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung and Goin’ On close the album pretty well. Pompeii really should get some serious credit though, for being able to crank out a cosmic spacey atmosphere with no real hook other than the pretty chords. As far as weak tracks go, you could make an arguement for Free Radicals (hell, I think it’s just funny) and maybe The W.A.N.D. But really, I believe that every song can get the listener tapping their foot or smiling in some way.

I think the real problem here is that the songs aren’t all completely hooky or as glorious as previous Lips material. Either way, this is a good, even great album and another fine addition to the Flaming Lip’s saga of post Zaireeka albums that seem to be the soundtrack to an exciting and ethereal life, and not to mention a great addition to the bands impressive full catalogue.

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The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots

September 7, 2006

First off guys, leave some friggin comments for christs sake. I love hearing what people think of my reviews. Even if you were to just say “they are too long” or “you ramble a lot” or something, that would really mean a lot. I know people visit here. They have to. I know how many views I get and where they are referred from. Just leave a comment and let me know how you feel about something. This is a laid back environment, and I gotta know if you guys are really alive. I get a lot of referrals from email boxes. It baffles me that anyone would ever personally refer this publication to anyone else. Let me know what’s up and what you think. Please?

There are few artists I find I can equate with Bob Dylan, not so much because Bob Dylan is the centerpost of all pop music or something like that, but because in the way that he writes music, every song is some kind of pretty gem. Not a flawless one mind you, but a pretty one anyway. I know I have explained this type of thing at some point before. Every artist has what I like to call “vintage” songs. Songs that weren’t staples of radio or anything but do the artist so much justice in exemplifying their talents and songcraft. Well, with Bob Dylan, it seems like every song he ever made was popular, and yet it is all still vintage Bob Dylan. But Bob Dylan annoys me, as much as I love him. He is a superb and almost unmatched songwriter, and yet he seems to be very close-minded nowadays when it comes to modern music. See, I respect this man a lot, but he used to be an openminded youth. While he still writes songs like an inspired pro, he has unfortunately turned into the close-minded old coot that he once fought against.

Anyway, there are very few musical artists that get close to Bob Dylan on the level of all of their songs being “vintage.” Beck probably comes the closest, which is almost a given considering he is an eclectic artist that has not only broken significant ground, but also works solo. If I flip on the radio and hear a Beck song, be it Loser, Devil’s Haircut, or Missing, I’ll think to myself, “Hell yeah! This is classic Beck.” Look through a catalog of Bob Dylans songs. You will see a pattern in the titles. Now do it with Beck and you will see some kind of odd pattern as well. The Flaming Lips get pretty close to Bob Dylan as far as these patterns go, at least I think. I haven’t heard all of The Flaming Lips’ work, but enough to know that they are a smart band who, while trying to be a little weird, concentrates on songcraft enough that almost every song is memorable. Any artist who names an album Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots has to have at least a little bit of confidence. What is interesting is that almost every song on this album is vintage Flaming Lips. And I love hearing a “vintage” song from an artist. It’s refreshing.

Most of what is on Yoshimi is the sound that The Soft Bulletin tried to achieve, but with a quirkier atmosphere around it. Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robot’s Pt. 1 most certainly could have been released at the time of Bulletin, but it wouldn’t be quite as fun. Here the lyrics are more straighforward and less vague, and decorated with silly and fun sound effects. Of course, all of these songs are still straightforward pop with the same accessible chords and progressions, but what differentiates this from the Lips past work is the attitude.

Each song is constructed with the utmost care and delicacy, and the result is a fun, passive but utterly confident record with catchy tunes all throughout. Lyrically, Wayne Coyne revisits the days of old and discusses topics ranging from strange ballads about a small asian girl with superior martial arts skills to life lessons like how fighting sometimes can help solve problems. And a recurring message seems to be the topic of whether or not robots could possibly have feelings, which of course has been covered before, but not quite with this much warm enthusiasm.

The best songs are the infectiously ingenious pop tunes, the most notable of which is Fight Test, combining top fourty pop rock with fun augmentations like wacky synthesizers and touches of echo. But there is also a certain amount of range here, and One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21 is a melancholy tune about the repetetive and meaningless lives of machines, while Approaching Pavonis Mons by Baloon is a mellow atmospheric instrumental to end the album. What really needs to be noted about Yoshimi is the happy almost magical approach that can be seen in every song. The aim is to obviously be moving and beautiful while covering different ground, and the outcome is a complete success. What you hear in Fight Test can also be heard in It’s Summertime and Ego Tripping At The Gates of Hell, but the songs are so different that they have their own life and personal beauty. There is really no way I can describe it without being repetitive, but trust me, the flow of the album is cool and very approachable.

The standout track here is Do You Realize??, possibly the most beautiful Lips song I have heard yet. And it is one of the best pop tunes released in years as well. Not only does it confer sage advice on how to deal with life and what the best attitude to have is, but it does so in a glowing, soaring, and gloriously important way with what sounds to me like an orchestra and shimmering guitars to boot. If there is a song to exemplify the entire album, this is it. And what the album is is vintage, that much is true, but it is all so special and touching that one can’t help but get to know this album better. It is an album that tries very hard to get close to the listener, and the attempt is not without some kind of awkward success.