Avant-garde, experimental, electronic undertakings are what Flying Lotus is all about. And the musician's new album is his most obsure and dream-like yet.
Lotus flying high
We love to contain and categorise our music, time-stamping our genres with definitive recordings so any future iteration must be deemed merely retro. Thus for many people jazz stops at be-bop, trip-hop starts and ends with Portishead and dubstep is all about Skrillex and Skream. That, though, would be to dismiss the musical wonder that is the
internet age, allowing those strict lines to pixelate into a million genres, sub-genres and individuals – and, more importantly, allowing the rest of us to hear them.
Flying Lotus, real name Steven Ellison, is a perfect example of a visionary musician who has found a huge, devoted audience and a willing cohort of high-profile collaborators for avant-garde, experimental, electronic noodlings that are unlikely to have attracted a record deal in the days of A&R men chasing money and the mainstream.
All of which is to say: don’t expect tunes here, or easy, catchy riffs or even instant enjoyment. That’s not what Flying Lotus is about, and this, an auditory dreamscape of clicks, whirrs, claps, snares and floating vocals, is his most diffuse album yet. Listening to it takes effort but the rewards are worth it.
It says something, in fact, that probably the most conventional song on the album is Electric Candyman, voiced almost unrecognisably by Thom Yorke – a singer who himself is no stranger to the experimental. Electric Candyman is dark: starting with slow, discordant chords that exhale like heavy sighs, the song glides relentlessly forward with wonky, silvery percussion and ghostly snippets of vocals exhorting us to “look into the mirror” and “say my name”. This is the moment the intangible, glistening dreaminess of the listener’s journey becomes sweatily nightmarish, ending with a viscous, chewing beat and segueing through jungle birdcalls into the exquisitely painful, disorientating Hunger, featuring Niki Randa’s delicate vocals.
Until that moment, Until The Quiet Comes has been a benevolent imagining, phosphorescent and surreal, with rippling,
chirping samples, shuffling snatches of percussion and analogue scratch, rainforest noise and colour, drifting from song to song and emotive strings to ethereal female voice – Randa, Laura Darlington, a stunning turn from Erykah Badu.
And, as dreams often are, the elements are familiar but strange: the wub-wub dubstep of Sultan’s Request; the trip-hop voices and scratches; the James Blake-style post-dubstep glitches and retuned vocals; the walking baselines and chromatic chord progressions of jazz (Ellison’s great-uncle and aunt were John and Alice Coltrane); even the happy ambience and quirky samples of Zero 7. But this is development, not derivation, and that’s how to listen to it: as a developing narrative of the future, albeit a weird-as-anything vision. Just don’t expect any dance-floor fillers.