Flying Lotus - Flamagra

  • An ambitious yet cohesive full-length from the Brainfeeder boss.
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  • Flying Lotus is now effectively his own genre. Since his debut full-length, 2006's 1983, the artist, born Steve Ellison, has mined the middle ground between cosmic African-American music and the technical trickery of Warp forebears like Squarepusher, tipping his hat to video games and anime along the way. As well as being critical catnip, Ellison's music is surprisingly palatable to mainstream audiences. On a typical tour date, he's hauled his synapse-frying AV show into theatres rather than clubs. In his hometown of Los Angeles, Ellison has played with friends and heroes to packed crowds in the 17,000-capacity Hollywood Bowl. The albums he's made in the last decade—Cosmogramma, Until The Quiet Comes and You're Dead!—opened up listeners to parallel worlds filled with astral travelling, DMT dreaming and purgatorial tours. His latest LP, Flamagra, integrates everything in his oeuvre to date, showing how Ellison can swerve between lanes while still remaining in a vehicle easily identifiable as his. It's not as if he needed another album to remind people he was still kicking about. In recent years, he's boosted his status as a kingmaker, alerting the world to master saxophonist Kamasi Washington and building a reverent synergy with his partner in crime Thundercat (who appears on 22 out of 27 songs here). He also helped inspire Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly and produced its opening track, which featured George Clinton and Thundercat. Ellison even directed a luridly carnal horror flick, Kuso. Yet he still sees himself as an outlier—and not just because the audience fled the premiere at Sundance. A 2014 profile of Ellison in The Fader revealed a sense of injustice about artists on his Brainfeeder label hitting the studio with superstars like Lamar while Ellison stayed benched. This has plausibly fuelled Flamagra's largesse. The LP is 67-minutes long and for large chunks the mood is bright and poppy, not qualities you could ascribe to Ellison's music till now. Flamagra effectively bends the conversation back toward himself, proving that, while obsessively detailed and proggy as hell, his signature style remains durable enough to fold around high-level collaborators. The first thing that hits is the funk. Ellison's more upbeat productions have always had a squelchy, roly-poly quality, but thick wah-wahs and clavinet gives the beginning of Flamagra the feel of mid-'70s Stevie Wonder. Boisterous jams with Anderson .Paak ("More") and George Clinton ("Burning Down The House") come off like Ellison strutting out of Low End Theory and into a backyard BBQ. He nails it best on "Takashi," which steps out with the pep of a City Pop hit—it's no surprise to see the Japanese disco revivalist Syunsuke Ono credited––before switching up into fuzzy fusion with the urgency and near chaos of a runaway mine cart. If you had five minutes to cut to the heart of Flying Lotus for a newcomer's benefit, "Takashi" would do the trick. Flamagra's narrative arc suggests a long bender. After an addled romp through the first third, in which Ellison gets into romantic entanglements with characters played by Little Dragon's Yumiki Nagano and rap's new Missy Elliott-in-waiting, Tierra Whack, paranoia sets in. Denzel Curry, David Lynch and Shabazz Palaces' Ishmael Butler dial up the darkness by invoking caskets closing, "dapper marksmen" and the sky ablaze. On the cusp of a bad trip, Ellison retreats—the LP's third act brings to mind embers in a fireplace rather than a raging pyre. The album then beds down into a nest of modal jazz noodling, contemplative soul and filigree easy listening, the kind you might find in records by musicians like Barre Phillips or Bill Evans. Death has long stalked Ellison's work. Thundercat's Apocalypse, which Ellison executive produced, followed the overdose of the Brainfeeder protégé Austin Peralta, aged 22. Months before You're Dead!'s release, Ellison found himself lying on a hotel floor with no heartbeat, thinking of DJ Rashad and Peralta as he tried to focus on his breathing. The theme recurs on Flamagra. The aqueous "Thank U Malcolm" is a tribute to collaborator and friend Mac Miller, who passed away last September. When Solange breaks into a series of string-backed hallelujahs on "Land Of Honey," it recalls "Going Home," the closer on Lord Of Lords, an album by Ellison's great aunt, Alice Coltrane. That Flamagra's bundle of ruminations and influences can mesh without being exhausting is a testament to Ellison's chops. There are a few too many cute but superfluous instrumentals ("Capillaries," "Pygmy"), but they don't do much to jink the LP's flow. It's heartening to see that as Flying Lotus becomes an ever more celebrated project, Ellison remains keen on confronting and articulating his inner quarrels in the name of taking weirdness to the masses, and in doing so writing a new chapter in the pantheon of great Afrofuturist music. On "Actually Virtual," Butler does a solid job of explaining why this pays off so handsomely: "Black limits transcended / Broke minds mended / It's the genesis."
  • Tracklist
      01. Heroes 02. Post Requisite 03. Heroes In A Half Shell 04. More 05. Capillaries 06. Burning Down The House 07. Spontaneous 08. Takashi 09. Pilgrim Side Eye 10. All Spies 11. Yellow Belly 12. Black Balloons Reprise 13. Fire Is Coming 14. Inside Your Home 15. Actually Virtual 16. Andromeda 17. Remind U 18. Say Something 19. Debbie Is Depressed 20. Find Your Own Way Home 21. The Climb 22. Pygmy 23. 9 Carrots 24. FF4 25. Land Of Honey 26. Thank U Malcolm 27. Hot Oct.