It’s appropriate that digital review copies of Flying Lotus’ latest opus Until the Quiet Comes came as a single 47-minute track, because, more than most works, it demands to be heard as a complete whole from beginning to end. When listened to in this way, you come to appreciate how Until the Quiet Comes is all about hiding the seams, whether you’re talking about where and how to chop up the individual tracks or the way FlyLo takes all his varied inputs and combines them in a way as if they were always meant to be together as he has arranged them. Indeed, Steven Ellison blends high-concept electronica, deconstructed hip-hop, and playful avant jazz with such mastery that each element is indecipherable on its own terms in his mix and becomes a component of a hybrid genre all his own. What’s most remarkable about the way Until the Quiet Comes is composed is how it moves so effortlessly and fluidly, as the L.A.-based Ellison conducts a master class on both how to create flow as well as how to maintain it through an entire album.
More airy and less cluttered than Flying Lotus’ 2010 breakthrough Cosmogramma, there’s an organic cohesion to Quiet that operates on multiple levels at once, amenable to passive listening as well as encouraging more active engagement. For those looking to chill out and check out, the album is like a subliminal soundtrack to the postmodern experience of everyday life, suffusing your senses in a soothing and fully immersive way. Giving new meaning to easy listening, FlyLo slips smoothly from one experimental techno vernacular to the next, incorporating dream-like synths, 8-bit blips, rapid-fire drum‘n’bass fills, and deep dubby beats to create music from an alternate universe that still feels real, thanks to the visceral reactions and in-your-mind’s-eye impressions it elicits. Everything has its own place and context on Until the Quiet Comes, as the whole thing goes naturally from moods of gentle euphoria to impending doom to oceanic contemplation without ever losing sight from the bigger picture. So while the high-profile vocal spots by Erykah Badu and long-time FlyLo admirer Thom Yorke would seem to be the picks to click, it says something about Ellison’s vision that their distinctive voices are subsumed into Quiet’ s fully absorbing composition, part of the mix like everything else.
While you don’t have to dig too far into Quiet to get a profound enough experience out of it, doing so only yields both more pleasure and insight, as you grapple with the deeper logic of the piece. Challenging the song-based form expected of contemporary pop music, Quiet works as a singular unit that uses contrast and on-the-fly adjustments to weave an intricate and all-encompassing soundscape; if anything, Ellison likes to change directions and make his tweaks within tracks as much as he does between them. What’s probably the hardest task that FlyLo accomplishes on Quiet is thread the needle between maintaining a coherent gameplan, while always keeping you on your toes by changing up time signatures, structures, and moods.
The first third of the album, in particular, is stunning in the way it builds something that hangs together so well out of disparate influences, variable tempos, and competing textures. On the opening piece “All In”, Flying Lotus sets the stage for what’s to come on Until the Quiet Comes, juxtaposing shimmering, Broadcast-like atmospherics and pinging, to-the-point beats, then synthesizing them. From there, Ellison is off to the races as he moves thrillingly through a wide range of styles, from the mischievous modulated synths of “Until the Colours Come” to the darker tonal shades of what you might call jazztronica on “Heave(n)” to the post-post-rock of “Tiny Tortures”, which ingeniously mixes-and-matches minimalist glitch with synthetic melodies à la Tortoise. All this builds up to one of Quiet’s most startling moments, crescendoing in an onslaught of static-clung sheets of noise on “Sultan’s Request” that are fierce and jarring enough to induce heart palpitations, only to find a release valve in the whimsical keyboards and springy beats of “Putty Boy Strut”.
While what FlyLo does is obviously heady, thought-through stuff, it wouldn’t make the impact it does if there wasn’t a warm-blooded imagination wringing something sentient and sensual out of all the techno machinations and mad professor experimentalism. There’s an undertone of yearning emotion and even soulfulness that separates Flying Lotus’ aesthetic on Quiet from that of other producer-types who may be just as proficient, technically speaking. That depth of feeling comes across not just in Erykah Badu’s resonant voice on “See Thru 2 U”, but also the spontaneously handclapped percussion that follows her up on the title track, or in how the disembodied howls on “Only If You Wanna” and Thom Yorke’s ghost-in-the-machine vocals from the haunting “Electric Candyman” are about alienation for the purpose of pushing back against it. And just as important to Ellison’s human touch is the playful good humor with which he goes about his craft, which depends as much on fun and creativity as it does on serious workmanship—after all, Flying Lotus made a name for itself by providing bumper music for Adult Swim sequences. Such levity and high spirit help to balance out Ellison’s heavy-duty aesthetic, especially when you need lighter sounds like the brisk high-stepping on “Putty Boy Strut” and the bright, shiny swagger of “The Nightcaller” to give some lift to the record’s darker tones.
The thing is, the more you listen to Until the Quiet Comes, the more you get the sense that you’re only scratching the surface of how much is really going on with it. It’s a tribute to what FlyLo has accomplished here that no matter how and how much you enjoy it now, Until the Quiet Comes only promises to keep on revealing more and more of itself.
// Notes from the Road
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