Flying Lotus is arguably at the top of his game. His last release, Cosmogramma, was stellar, and it knew it. With a sense of originality and an insistence, at all costs, on being different, the young Los Angeles producer took the free-form jazz demeanor and the mystic stoner textures of Los Angeles and blew them up into a larger-(or perhaps simply denser)-than-life sampler of electronic styles. It was a project that, given Flying Lotus’ credentials and talent, would inevitably draw either awe or scorn from critics and audiences. Cosmogramma feels long. It feels like some kind of ambitious, pretentious and wildly executed concept album.
The question of how he would follow up would probably have been more troubling with most artists, but Steve Ellison, the man behind the moniker, has always had a seemingly inexhaustible fund of iconoclastic soundscapes at his creative disposal. Despite its release swift on the heels of his last full-length — or perhaps because of it — Ellison’s Pattern + Grid World EP gives a very different impression than its sprawling predecessor. The music here is tighter, more balanced, more claustrophobic and more melodic. It’s no surprise that an EP like this one should feel more like a collection of individual songs than the epic Cosmogramma, but there is a genuine shift in Flying Lotus’ songwriting paradigm as well. This new batch of tracks is less precocious, sure, but it’s also less labored.
Take “Camera Day”, for instance. The whole song is anchored by what for Flying Lotus is a positively lyrical synth line. A close-knit web of stuttering drum hits, sliding, robot beeps and reflexive, cosmetic counterpoint power the loop forward in various configurations until the very end. The empty spaces and abortive themes of Cosmogramma are nowhere to be seen. Instead we get a tight little techno track, complete with pop-style layering and crescendo. Then there’s “Kill Your Co-Workers”, easily the most impressive track on the EP. It’s hard to disassociate the bright, styrofoam timbre of the synths with the pastel geometry and insipid carnage of the song’s music video by Beeple, aka Mike Winterman. The song indeed carries undertones of gleeful, cartoon violence in the second half, when the pinging synths and low-fidelity minor chords take on the atmosphere of a final boss showdown from an old-school video game. “Kill Your Co-Workers”, like the best of Flying Lotus’ music, wears its sophistication with an almost childish naivete, and it does so by condensing all the ‘good parts’ — so often interspersed with unmelodic rambling — into a sugary, vibrant morsel.
None of this is to say that Pattern + Grid World is a radical departure from Ellis’ signature sound. The chaotic, ghostly blaring of “Time Vampires” is assurance that he’s not abandoned his creepy-freaky ways, and the awkward, arrogant and stilted rhythms on “Jurassic Notion/M Theory” are proof that he’s the same old pedant. The whole album displays an undeniably Flying Lotus collage sensibility.Yet, perhaps due to its short length, perhaps to conscious stylistic choices, it’s the simpler, less convoluted tracks like “Kill Your Co-Workers”, “Pieface” and “Camera Day” that give the EP its expressive sweetness.