Friday, June 25, 2010

FLYING LOTUS: Cosmogramma

Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma

On his latest record, Flying Lotus races through seventeen complex and creative tracks in forty-five minutes. Without a tracklist, you might never know where one title ends and the next begins. That’s not because it all sounds the same, (it doesn’t) but because the individual tracks, far from being self-contained, fit together so perfectly into this cohesive, well-sequenced suite of oddly inviting music.

The boney gangle of 2008’s austere Los Angeles was persistently claustrophobic and the album felt like a collection of sketches, but on this follow-up FlyLo lets the music breathe and develop. The organic polyrhythmic lope you expect from him is augmented with a larger sonic toolbox, including string arrangements and other live instrumentation. It’s no less spacey, but far easier to warm to.

Some of the songs even feature sung hooks, and the vocals (by the likes of Thundercat, Laura Darlington and some guy called Thom Yorke) are as singalongable as anything we’ve ever heard under the Flying Lotus name (save for maybe Gonjasufi’s infectious cameo on Los Angeles).

The contributions from guest musicians are great, most notably Thundercats’s fluid bass pyrotechnics and Rebekah Raff’s harp.

That harp is one of the most obvious links to FlyLo’s heritage (Alice Coltrane is his Great Aunt), along with the way “German Haircut” and the aptly named “Arkestry” pair lo-fi jazz drumming with saxophone solos played by Ravi Coltrane. Rather than let these elements of 1960s spiritual jazz tie him down to the past, though, FlyLo adopts and adapts them to suit his purposes. A nostalgic homage wouldn’t be as true to the music of Sun Ra and Alice Coltrane as a record that continues to push boundaries they way they did.

The reference points are obvious, (video game music, post-Donuts instrumental hip-hop, the rhythms of jungle and house) but this is as fresh and unique as anything I’ve heard in a long time and it’s a pleasure to hear it now, before the inevitable onslaught of Flying Lotus imitators makes it seem less special. There’s an ease to the ideas here, the open approach of a musician carving out his own space and kicking down doors like its no big deal. Even if some of those inevitable imitators make a more sophisticated or complex version of this music, I doubt anyone will ever make it with the same kind of fearless joy.

Any list of the huge-grin-inducing moments here will be incomplete, but some of my favorites are the ping-pong percussion on “Table Tennis”, the scat singing that introduces “Do The Astral Plane” and Todd Simon’s trumpet-playing on that same track.

The “Flying Lotus sound” is perfected here. No matter how programmed or looped the percussion is, it swings with humanity instead of snapping artificially to a computerized grid like hyper-perfect robot drums. Compressor-overload kicks pummel surrounding sounds, synthy tones are glitched and gutted, voices are timestretched and pitch-shifted, but no matter how tweaked and trimmed, these sounds are weirdly, beautifully soulful.

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