Take one look at Carlos Niño and you can tell what type of person he is. His long hair that stretches down to his shoulders, his grizzly beard that makes him look like Rick Rubin’s long-lost brother, and his laid-back Los Angeles dialect make him the last hoorah for the Californian counterculture musical movement of the ‘60s. Yet, unlike Jerry Garcia or Jim Morrison, who experimented mainly with rock, folk and blues, Niño’s music encompasses everything from electronic, hip-hop, ambient drones, nature sounds, and jazz, among others. While he’s had at least a little experience in each of these genres (he has worked in some capacity on over a hundred different albums for various artists), combining these musical styles would be impossible for anyone. Luckily, he has plenty of connections in the music industry to help him make Flutes, Echoes, It’s All Happening! into what will likely be one of the most eclectic albums of the year.
If Niño deserves credit for anything on this album, it’s that the album sounds distinctly his own. With as many features as a full soccer team (and some benchwarmers to boot), Flutes, Echoes, It’s All Happening! could have ended up as a disorganized hodgepodge of noises colliding into each other at random. In fact, when looking at the album as a holistic project, it does appear as the musical equivalent of a post-modern, Jackson Pollock painting, where Carlos seems to be throwing everything at the canvas in the hopes that something will stick. However, the soundscapes, no matter how whacked-out they may be, constantly remind you that it’s a Carlos Niño’s album, not one featuring the hippie-reincarnated Californian. For holding his own against fellow Californian musical heavyweights like Madlib and Kamasi Washington, he deserves at least some kudos.
Now, although Flutes, Echoes, It’s All Happening! is as all-encompassing as its title suggests, there is a sense of unity and cohesion throughout the album. “Alice’s Chord”, one of the live songs, flows seamlessly into “Joyous Gratitude”, the other live performance. Also throughout this album are nature sounds, such as crickets chirping, birds singing, and streams running downhill, that provide a general nature theme. This helps connect tracks like “Metamaravilla” with “It’s all happening!” or “Delightfulllll/Waterfall” with “4 Directions Collage”, songs that are distinct musically but contain similar outdoor soundscapes.
Within the entropy that characterizes this album, there are some beautiful moments. “Joyous Gratitude” offers up some great jazz horns by Kamasi Washington, “It’s all happening!” has Madlib’s classic thumbprint all over it, “Calimayan” brings the flute solos that the album title refers to, and “Delightfulllll/Waterfall” has an almost comical spoken word bit by someone who sounds like he’s familiar with some hefty psychedelic drugs.
However, even though these are the best songs, a couple of them still have enormous faults. “Joyous Gratitude”, for example, is too short and underdeveloped, while “It’s all happening!” loses its momentum after a chaotic breakdown at its mid-point. “Delightfulllll/Waterfall” is pretty good, with the spoken word section at the end connecting the nature sounds with the light electronic synth notes floating around the track, and the flutes on “Calimayan” and even “Metamaravilla” sound both full and organic, providing a nice complement to the nature soundscapes behind them. Still, though these are good songs, they are nowhere near great, and don’t make up for the wandering, aimless melodies that Carlos employs on “4 Directions Collage”, “Jupiter Sings”, and “Aetheriaztlan” to unnecessarily pad out the album.
In an age where many artists are clutching at older musical styles (I’m looking at you, Lana Del Rey), Flutes, Echos, It’s All Happening! manages to carve out a distinct niche in the music world all its own. However, in the making of this album, Carlos has forgotten the one canonical rule of music: it has to sound good. Don’t get it twisted; there are some decent moments sprinkled in throughout the nine tracks. Nevertheless, the musical package as a whole is like a box mostly filled with Styrofoam peanuts; they aren’t bad, but everybody eventually tosses them to the side so they can get to the actual gift buried underneath them. While Carlos Niño does reward our search with gems from Madlib, Kamasi Washington, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, and more, they aren’t plentiful enough to justify slogging through this album, even if the feature list tries to convince you otherwise.