Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, has covered an awful lot of ground in a short period of time. Like many other people, I first happened across his music during late night channel surfing. Many of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim commercial bumps have been scored by his music since 2006, but it wasn’t long before his snippets took fuller forms, and connections with artists like J Dilla and the Stones Throw roster opened the door for his debut, 1983, that same year. With the follow-up, 2008’s Los Angeles, Flying Lotus took large strides towards becoming the face of Los Angeles’ burgeoning ‘beat generation’ scene. At the very least, much like Black Milk, he had stepped out from the shadow of J Dilla and become his own entity.
Since Los Angeles, Flying Lotus’s recorded output has been sparse but attention catching. His dubstep treatments of Lil’ Wayne’s “I Feel Like Dying” and “A Milli” grabbed headlines across the blogosphere, while a paranoid adaptation of Gucci Mane’s “Photoshoot” helped push a shifting of opinion in Gucci’s favor among the mass hysteria of criticism and opinion that is the modern musical conversation. He also did some progressive board-handling for artists like Finale, but these sorts of things ultimately felt like teases, because surely Flying Lotus’s next record wasn’t so simple as hip-hop beats + dubstep… surely he could be less predictable than that.
Cosmogramma is less predictable than that. When this album was first handed out for judgement, it was essentially a single track. Some tried to splice it via intuition into the standard 17-track playlist, but I felt that Ellison and Warp did a very intelligent thing in presenting the album this way. “Clock Catcher” simply catches one by surprise, quickly scattering a listener’s thoughts in various directions. “Pickled!” then collides Squarepusher-style bass guitar (courtesy of Thundercat) with the rumble of train tracks to create a warning: this isn’t your old Flying Lotus. These bass excursions appear consistently throughout the album as well, taking tracks like “Table Tennis” and “Auntie’s Harp” to a fuller potential than would have been possible in Flying Lotus’s old format.
Cosmogramma is the album that finally reveals Flying Lotus’s genealogy of jazz as an essential piece of his framework, and pulls the entirety of his other influences out from the depths of his sleeves. Many of the ideas here owe obvious debts to artists who’ve come before. Whether it’s Thom Yorke finally getting the feature on Warp he’s longed for all decade, or the various nods to Squarepusher’s bass, the dance floor dominating “Do the Astral Plane” or the equally Amnesiac- and Ron Carter-baiting “Satelllliiiiiteee”, Flying Lotus more importantly proves to have mastered and accepted his influences as part of his own aesthetic.
Flying Lotus, much like Yorke, Greenwood & Co., has made a definitive summary of a decade’s worth of advances in electronic music, a release that transcends genre and deserves to become a glorified phenomena by those who experience it. I can’t tell you enough how often I’ve listened to this, how consistently each moment of it pleasures a different piece of the musical mind, and how confident Stephen Ellison seems each step of the way. As the album fades away over a ping pong battle, Laura Darlington’s Björk-lite vocals, and the comedown of “Galaxy in Janaki”, it becomes clear that Flying Lotus is poised to be not only a name to watch in the next decade, but a guiding light and bridge to the next big things.
// Notes from the Road
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