Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is the Flaming Lips' second disc since reimagining themselves on 1997's Zaireeka. It's casually electronic and curiously acoustic, with sounds from either end of the musical spectrum crashing in the middle and collapsing into smiling, sad piles of overcast optimism and, as leader Wayne Coyne puts it, "sunshine funerals." If it's not quite as good as 1999's The Soft Bulletin, well, that's only because the Oklahoma trio (Coyne, Steven Drozd and Michael Ivins) probably raised the bar a little out of reach with that one.
So the new recording shivers in the shadow a bit, but just a little, avoiding further comparison to The Soft Bulletin by inverting the formula: Bulletin was a sad record with an uncomfortable grin on its face; Yoshimi, on the other hand, is a hopeful laugh hidden behind a tear-stained handkerchief. For example, a song about death is called "It's Summertime." A sequel in spirit and timing only, Yoshimi looks like a concept album on the outside, but ultimately, that's too easy of a definition. If there is an overarching theme to this album, it's that it asks a lot questions -- "Are You a Hypnotist??" and "Do You Realize?" among them.
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Note to Radiohead: This is how you grow as a band without growing apart from what made you interesting in the first place, how you challenge yourself and your audience without turning it into a long-winded word problem that no one has the time or patience to solve. Another soft bullet that hits harder than you'd expect. -- Zac Crain