May 24, 2019

Flying Lotus - Flamagra Review

Flying Lotus - Flamagra Review

Flying Lotus - Flamagra Review

Flying Lotus has become an amalgam of jazz, hip-hop, and electronica ever since he burst onto the scene with his minimalist beat-driven debut LP, 1983. A dusty, stripped-down collection of beats and electronic songs which defined him and defined an era of the late 2000s glitch hop scene. Since then, he has continued forward in big and exciting ways, releasing his touchstone classic, Los Angeles, and pushing forward into more styles and genres that all seem to melt into one signature sound in his follow-up works, Cosmogramma, Until The Quiet Comes, and You're Dead! This was a period of serious experimentation and collaboration into the genres of hip-hop, jazz, fusion, and cinematic, orchestrated greatness, and Flying Lotus, aka Steven Ellison, began a wild career full of all-star collaborations on these records. Artists such as Thundercat, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Erykah Badu, Radiohead's Thom Yorke, Snoop Dogg, and Kendrick Lamar, are just a few of the many team-ups gracing Ellison's catalog, and these artists and his forward-driving sound give them all a special place in history. Like Ellison's past work, Flamagra continues this tradition with more of that definitive experimentation in his most dynamic album to date.

Gone are the days when I could hope for a predominantly solo effort by FlyLo, but each album after 1983 and Los Angeles is a unique snapshot of his artistic evolution, and each one calls back a special time in my life as I became influenced by his work. Nowadays, what can be expected of Flying Lotus's album structure is ensemble acts of frenetic jazz and synth blasts as his albums open, with hip-hop and jazz fueled compositions throughout. It's no longer a surprising sound to longtime fans, and the "wow" factor might have left a couple albums previous, but Ellison proves that this FlyLo aesthetic is here to stay, for better or worse.

Just like his previous few releases, Ellison has a decorated feature list on Flamagra as well. Artists such as George Clinton, Shabazz Palaces, Toro Y Moi, and none other than surrealist David Lynch take turns fading in and out of Flamagra, an album Ellison describes as being based on the concept of a fire that burns on the horizon, a fire that inspires dreams and fears throughout the course of humanity. Considering his past few efforts have taken on the concepts of astral traveling, dream states, and death, this new ground seems like the most likely successor.

After a cinematic and jazzy opening, FlyLo takes us into the glitch-hop, head bobbing landscape that defined his sound on Post Requisite, churns out some video-game jazz fusion on Heroes In A Half Shell, and trades that sound in yet again for his soulful, hip-hop collaboration More with rapper Anderson .Paak. And this is just the opening suite of songs! FlyLo has become the most versatile on this latest record, as his mastery of multiple styles is unmatched on Flamagra. His next track directly following More is a funky hip-hop beat with a cautious piano melody, likely performed by Ellison himself, who at 35 years of age started taking piano lessons. The aesthetic may be building from his previous albums, but his growth and willing to keep learning is obvious in tracks like Capillaries and the beautiful, orchestrated jazz ballad, Say Something.

The songs that follow continue with this sonic exploration and some have a downright feeling of absurdity and nightmarish quality, such as that of Yellow Belly, and the lead single featuring cracked, old-timey spoken words by David Lynch, Fire Is Coming. It was from this the Flamagra concept became a fully formed record. Other highlights include Black Balloons Reprise, which instantly took me back to the days of bumping the Madlib produced Quasimoto album The Unseen. "That black balloons beat is dedicated to Madlib and Egon. When I was in college I heard quas "come on feet" it relit my love for sampling and eventually changed my world. Love to you legends," Ellison writes in an official Youtube comment for this track. Relative to Ellison's experience, it was also my college experience to have my world opened up by this Quasimoto album. It's arguably the best FlyLo produced hip-hop song to date.

Other tracks that follow seem to give the same airy and bouncy vibe, as Ellison mixes more glitchy production with other collaborating artists, and takes some time to showcase purely instrumental works. Nearing the end the record seems to lag a little bit, and I couldn't help but feel that some of these later half instrumentals feel similar to the tracks Ellison dropped a few years back in his "ideas+drafts+loops" song dump on the internet. Overall, they keep Flamagra from achieving true masterpiece-like greatness.

After all that Ellison has done for us this past decade, I've come to the conclusion that, in my opinion, Flying Lotus’s greatest strength is his restraint. With his past four albums, fans have gotten a good idea for what Ellison can do when he throws just about everything at you. This usually succeeds to varying degrees, but sometimes it comes off a bit too busy, and just seems like a moment of synth and bass noodling that doesn't pay off like it used to. These moments could instead have been substituted for more interesting or complex melodic lines. Some tracks in Flamagra feel slightly under-developed, and I think if he left a few of them on the cutting room floor, I would be holding this new adventurous record in much higher esteem, but for now, I'm going to have to settle into the less-than-amazed but pleasantly surprised camp. Ultimately, it's a fantastic starting point for any newcomers to Flying Lotus, who may then want to work back through his discography, and I would still give this record a high recommend. I can't say how much high praise and respect I have for Flying Lotus, and I'm grateful that we have a world that embraces an artist of this magnitude who constantly pushes the envelope musically. Flamagra is not my favorite, but that won't stop it from becoming your favorite.

Flamagra - 7/10

Recommended Tracks: Post Requisite, Black Balloons Reprise, The Climb