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“Kind of a wallpapery feel,” says my girlfriend, as we sit here listening to At War With the Mystics, the Flaming Lips’ hotly anticipated follow-up to Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. I have to agree. Even more than they did on Yoshimi, producers have sanded off the Lips’ rough edges: Wayne Coyne’s wobbly singing-saw wail, for example, is almost a background effect at this point, bricked up with Legos of modular sound that feel geometric and interchangeable. And Coyne’s new political pointedness doesn’t wash with me. I felt he was saying much, much more back when he said less — or when, as was true in the group’s masterpiece, The Soft Bulletin, every argument, musical and philosophical, was couched in a wistful alien moonscape. Mystics is a nice aural milk bath, with a few marshmallow treats thrown in, but everything here feels somehow both vague and tendentious, slack and insistent. It’s strenuous stoner music. I keep coming back to this oft-repeated lyric: “Every time you state your case, the more I want to punch your face.” Exactly!

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