Somehow, and maybe through error, I’ve arrived at a certain impression of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and how it’s regarded.
Basically, it goes: while Yoshimi is the mainstream breakthrough and accessible starter for The Flaming Lips, it’s actually The Soft Bulletin (or even some earlier record) that is the best–the deepest, the most detailed, the most rewarding of their discography.
And I guess I just want to suggest that, 15 years now having gone by, I wonder if we can consider that maybe… Yoshimi is excellent in both of these respects, rather than just the one?
Whichever album you finally prefer, there’s little question that Yoshimi is a major album that has depths to match its sugary surface. Or maybe it’s just that the sugary surface is so delectably detailed–and undergirded by such immediately pleasant melodies–that the surface is the depth in itself. After all: “If you look inside / When you look inside, all you’ll see is a self-reflected inner sadness / Look outside / I know that you’ll recognize it’s summertime.” Wayne Coyne is concerned–up against suffering, death, and disease–with the liberation of the exterior moment.
Sonically, the album belongs to a moment in alt music history which still, somehow, seems happily immune from aging: the late 90s and early 2000s, when adventurous groups were not just trying to co-mingle rock instruments and attitudes with synthesizers, but successfully doing it all the time. It was an experiment in rock/pop that had been tried before, but never with the mythic and aesthetic conviction which characterized Radiohead’s Kid A or LCD Soundsystem’s debut. And while there’s a lot to celebrate both in James Murphy’s psychiatric detachment and Thom Yorke’s fixation upon the clouds and the smoke, I often get the sense that Wayne Coyne’s stubbornly buoyant determination to see through to the sun and stars and sky is somehow considered less serious.
But his lyrics are no less sophisticated for the more immediately reassuring tone which surrounds them. In fact, they may well be the exemplary articulation of a kind of epistemological paranoia which characterized the post-Y2K moment (as registered and metabolized in the consciousness of a neo-hippie amongst the ruins of late capital).
- Fight Test: Is dogmatic pacifism a complacent cop-out? Do we need to recuperate an appropriately delimited understanding of heroic violence?
- One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21: What does it mean to feel love authentically when we are aware of the extent to which so many of our other immediate nervous responses are the result of conditioning, cultural or otherwise?
- Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Pt. 1: In our longing for a non-automated existence, is it reasonable to place messianic hope in the martial spirituality of a Japanese black belt in avant singing? Are you sure that this is not precisely what your excessive attachment to pop music is?
- Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Pt. 2: Are the cosmic ordeals of your life merely the fart noise side effect of untrustworthy corporate entities engaging in cross-dimensional battle?
- In the Morning of the Magicians: Are our tiny wills remotely anything when compared to the enormous force of Being itself? Is the universe riding off with you and, if it is, what is the appropriate affective response to this sort of an ordeal?
- Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell: Is it possible that, in the very moment that we most think we have isolated a kind of authentically painful and self-transcending unrequited love, that we are never more in thrall to what is in fact the least True, most Narcissistic script of our own psyche? And that this self-containment in misguided desire might constitute the archetypal form of damnation itself?
- Are You a Hypnotist??: Have I forgiven you, or have you tricked me into forgiving you? Are you attempting to coerce my being in any way whatsoever? Are you merely a reflection of the violence that I unconsciously manifest against my own being due to the way in which I may or may not have been programmed by malevolent, invisible forces?
- It’s Summertime: Is true Being encountered within or without?
- Do You Realize??: Have you sufficiently accounted for the notion that your narcissistic attachment to immediate pleasures and consolations may in fact be a result of the fact that you in all likelihood have not accounted for their utter entanglement within what appears to be the enormously beautiful indifference of existence itself?
- All We Have Is Now?: Can you entertain a heretical counter-myth fashioned for our non-teleological age? To wit: are our hopes for the future making us into evil robots?
- Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia): We may or may not immanentize the eschaton by approaching complete knowledge and disarmament of the aggressive principle in Nature.
And I guess this, on the 15th anniversary of one of the greatest albums, is my own emphasis. I won’t bore you with recounting the Cat Stevens fiasco, or direct you to any other trivial Easter egg that might as well just be gleaned from the Wikipedia article you’ve already looked at. Instead I’d ask you to really go old school and listen to the album with the lyrics, song titles, and their conceptual implications for each note of music itself. Follow along even after the half-formed story ends midway through. Is this not one of the heights of contemplative, reflective pop music which deserves every bit of its place next to other contenders which–perhaps–aren’t any more serious just for their being more dour?
Q: Do I realize that I have, in the very asking of these questions, perhaps missed the point?
A: Nay; for if I found aesthetic and spiritual encounter in asking them, I have missed only what was worth missing.