[13 June 2008]
You probably know him as the guy who throw together segues for Adult Swim, even though he’s not credited for doing so. You might also know him as Alice Coltrane’s nephew. If all goes accordingly to plan, however, you will now know him more for his trippy brand of hip-hop displayed on the excellent Los Angeles.
Many critics have compared Flying Lotus to such heralded beatsmiths as Madlib and J Dilla, but there’s more going on here than just experimental boom-bap. FlyLo relies heavily on ambient soundscapes while his contemporaries strive to fill each segment of dead air. What we have here is Eluvium meets Madlib, with both influences weighing heavy on Flying Lotus’s style. He manipulates floaty synths while throwing in hip-hop’s trademark banging drums. It’s minimalist, but at the same time, there is enough going on to keep you entertained. His ability to create something perfect for both a sunny and rainy day is what makes his music so undeniably interesting.
After his impressive debut 1983, the Flying one is back with Los Angeles, perhaps some kind of warped dedication to the city. And the title is really no surprise after the influx of left-field hip-hop that has emerged from that area. From the aforementioned Madlib to numerous others, it’s obvious there isn’t something in the water. Either these guys have an endless supply of weed, which seems true when it comes to Madlib, or they are simply addicted to crafting their art in a way that has never been done before.
But it’s not like FlyLo is re-building a genre from scratch here. He is more or less pulling from his influences to make something that feels like a tribal epic from outerspace. No track personifies that feeling more than “Orbit 405”, which sounds like the equivalent of an alien abduction. Other songs like “Melt!” and “Golden Diva” are just as orbital, but more refined. Their wavering synths and simplistic, yet danceable, drums take the music to another level. There are also some points when it would not be off base to compare Flying Lotus to a smoked-out hip-hop version of the noise master known Merzbow. While Merzbow’s music is obviously less accessible and much harsher, Flying Lotus manipulates his sound in a similar way.
Even tracks with vocals like the lounge lizard “Testament” feels right at home as Gonja Sufi croons over a jazzy, finger-plucked bassline. The following song, “Auntie’s Lock/Infinitum” featuring Laura Darlington, is the complete opposite. It feels like the French duo Air stepped in to show Flying Lotus how to create their moody brand of electronica. If there could be one thing to change here, it would be the addition of some rappers, preferably those like MF DOOM. Many of these tracks are perfectly suited for someone like DOOM’s off-beat rhyming, especially those like “Melt!”.
The only troubling factor here is the lack of variety on the album. It is something that could both work for and against Flying Lotus. Given our culture’s shortened attention span, this 17-track journey is sure to push some people away. Those listeners who stick it out, however, and listen to the album all the way through are going to love it. You could literally leave Los Angeles on repeat for hours and hear something different each time. It’s a gritty, spacey, and ultimately beautiful record that is sure to give Flying Lotus some much-deserved attention.