Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma

There is a clear link throughout Cosmogramma between music’s renowned past and its fitful future that sounds more vital than ever before.

Steven Ellison sets a hyper-kinetic pace on the appropriately titled ‘Clock Catcher,’ which leads off Flying Lotus’ brilliantly frantic new record Cosmogramma, and he never really lets up on the gas, taking the listener on a journey to the end of what’s familiar and the beginning of what is to come. It’s a wild ride, surely, and one that, depending on your mood or mental state, could clearly lead you to a different place with each listen. The beats are fresh and futuristic throughout, but layered with classic flourishes (like his cousin Ravi Coltrane’s tenor sax, Rebekah Raff’s elegant harp, and Stephen “Thundercat” Brunner’s steady bass) as well as a stellar Thom Yorke cameo that hopefully will draw in the indie kids who might have slept on FlyLo’s two previous albums. But whatever initially draws one in to Cosmogramma, after listening to this bold, inventive album it is quite possible that your ideas about what music is and what it could be will be forever altered. It is simply that ambitious, and, frankly, that good.

Ellison has, for the most part, moved beyond the familiar dubstep tendencies of his past, aiming for something far more grand and ethereal on this album. And he reaches those lofty heights with a tightly focused, but no-less sprawling, record that surprises with each successive track. The frenzied start of the aforementioned ‘Clock Catcher,’ blends seamlessly into the equally manic beats of ‘Pickled!’ (featuring a vigorous Thundercat bassline) and the dynamic originality of ‘Nose Art,’ one of the clear standouts on a record that has an abundance of them. Ellison, the nephew of Alice Coltrane, channels some of his aunt’s mysticism on the mini-trilogy of ‘Intro/A Cosmic Drama,’ ‘Zodiac Shit,’ and ‘Computer Face/New Being,’ fluidly blending Miguel Atwood-Ferguson’s strings and Raff’s harp into his astral song structure, as well as slowing things down enough to give listeners a chance to catch their breath. But even when the tempo is relaxed, the music never comes across as boring or unimaginative, continually engaging the listener while allowing for plenty of room for them to get lost within the lavishly hypnotic sounds.

‘…And The World Laughs With You’ will clearly garner the most attention on this record, due simply to Yorke’s involvement, and it takes him nearly three minutes to announce himself on one of the album’s longest tracks. It almost seems like Ellison knows that people will be inevitably be drawn to this song simply because of the star-power involved, so he makes listeners work a bit for it before slowly revealing his guest’s ghostly croon. It’s akin to the Vatican, where you are lead through countless hallways with endless turns and twists before eventually making it to the Sistine Chapel; you have to earn the experience, and something so staggeringly beautiful shouldn’t be easy to get to. Following such a spirited track will always be a difficult task for any artist, and Ellison can be forgiven for shifting gears on the percussive but somewhat stale ‘Arkestry,’ a free-jazz experimentation that sounds like a segue instead of a fully realized number, which can unfortunately also be said about ‘Mmmhmm.’ In fact, the album doesn’t really pick back up again until the spacey stomp of ‘Do The Astral Plane,’ which soars amidst a dense beat formed over scatting vocals and symphonic synths.

There is an echo of the edgy, street-wise sounds of Burial on ‘Satelllliiiiitee,’ with menacingly confident vocals tucked in beneath a grimey beat, forming a prominent highlight of the record’s second half. The experimental jazz at the start of ‘Recoiled’ is perhaps a nod to his legendary uncle, before giving way to a darker, more futuristic electronic sound. That type of dichotomy is really what makes this record intensely absorbing; placing contrasting soundscapes and styles side by side in order to reexamine and redefine those genres, in addition to crafting compelling new forms in the process. Using the repetitive bounce of ping-pong balls on ‘Table Tennis’ is a novel and effective concept, and when combined with the dreamlike vocals of Laura Darlington, the track really flourishes and clearly exemplifies FlyLo’s estimable talents. The album closes with the trancelike fancy of ‘Galaxy In Janaki,’ which proves to be the perfect soothing tonic to the album’s tension-filled earlier moments. There is a clear link threaded throughout Cosmogramma between music’s renowned past and its fitful future, and with the dexterous hands of Steven Ellison twisting the dials, that prominent connection sounds distinctly more animated and vital than ever before.

Tags: Flying Lotus, Reviews, Album Reviews

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