- Chanted in the stoned-out haze of a sunny So-Cal afternoon, Steven Ellison, AKA Flying Lotus, conjured a vision of Los Angeles two years ago that was both sci-fi and the real thing at the same time. Clearly, Los Angeles was already cosmic. Which is why I don't even know what to call Cosmogramma.
Supposedly it means a "map of the universe," which is a pretty big step up from charting a Californian metropolis. A map communicates by using shapes and icons as graphic substitutions for larger territories. On Cosmogramma Ellison lets dubstep, free jazz, hip-hop, IDM and digital glitch unfold in markedly topographical undulation, as if you're getting a fly-by tour of different regions in a musical cosmos. Needless to say its sheer amount of diversity makes Cosmogramma a much more challenging affair than its predecessor.
Los Angeles was the crossover record, garnering mass appeal in part because it was easily graspable in a casual context, like coming out of someone's computer speakers at the office. I'm not sure what Cosmogramma would sound like to someone that has never heard Flying Lotus before. The old Flying Lotus hasn't disappeared, he's just had his wig split open by the spirits, letting in a broader choir of voices.
Ellison's grimy drums still have that drunken, futuristic swing that sounds like they were sampled, but then re-triggered by hand. Hooks are in short supply, the emphasis lying instead most often on shifting rhythms and unpredictable textures. One noticeable addition to Ellison's palette is an abundance of spiritual jazz motifs, reflecting his claim that the record is in part an ode to his aunt, free jazz pioneer Alice Coltrane, whose energy can be heard in the numerous ribbons of heavenly harp and trickling strings, as well as the Sun-Ra inflected "Arkestry."
Cosmogramma moves without warning from mood to mood, genre to genre, all part of a holistic whole. There's even a hands-in-the-air house track, "Do the Astral Plane." But for the most part Ellison doesn't seem like he's showing off. It's more like he's trying to respond with care to all the influences that have sailed into his orbit. Some tracks are micro-worlds in themselves, like "Table Tennis" which features Laura Darlington as smoky chanteuse. The titular ping-pong sounds that form the track's drum section are rhythmically captivating on their own, but they feel as if they're coming from downstairs while you listen to the track on headphones. Such is the risk, perhaps, of Ellison's ruthless experimentalism.
Another microworld occurs between tracks six and seven, where "Computer Face // Pure Being" rejoices with big fuzzy synths, then smoothly exhales into the contemplative innerspace of "...And the World Laughs With You" co-starring a certain Mr. Thom Yorke. Then, as to offer some concession to audience expectation, Ellison offers "Galaxy in Janaki," which with its choppy pitched sample and blunted groove most resembles the Flying Lotus of years past, the one that came to prominence in the fractured hip-hop universe of Daedelus and Prefuse 73. Cosmogramma makes nods to that universe at various points, but—as Ellison himself claims—it's also a vision of a universe. Where something called "Intro" doesn't come around until the fourth track; a place where the origin seems at home right in the middle of everything.
01. Clock Catcher
03. Nose Art
04. Intro//A Cosmic Drama
05. Zodiac Shit
06. Computer Face//Pure Being
07. ...And The World Laughs With You feat. Thom Yorke
09. Mmmhmm feat. Thundercat
10. Do The Astral Plane
12. German Haircut
14. Dance of the Pseudo Nymph
15. Drips//Auntie's Harp
16. Table Tennis feat. Laura Darlington
17. Galaxy in Janaki