Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, has been on an upward swing from the moment he arrived in 2006 with his debut 1983. Falling comfortably into the shoes of producers like Madlib and J Dilla, with also element of psych, hip hop, trip hop, and jazz, each Flying Lotus record ups the one that came before. His albums are otherworldly and can’t be easily labeled as one thing or another, which I believe is by Ellison’s design.
Arguably his most out there and forward-thinking record was his last, 2014s You’re Dead!. With the use of both electronics and actual instruments, and rappers like Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar, You’re Dead! was a culmination of everything that came before and things we’d yet to hear. A hallucinatory hip hop fusion album. It was a game changer.
Now with his newest record, the flowing and groovy Flamagra, Ellison has put Flying Lotus in a bit of a holding pattern. That’s not a bad thing, given that a lot of us are still digesting what came before. What Flamagra does is explore the sonic world of Flying Lotus further, taking time to savor Ellison’s compositional muscle and well curated rhythms. With MCs like Anderson .Paak, Tierra Whack, and Denzel Curry; as well as George Clinton, Little Dragon, and frequent collaborator Thundercat, the cast of impressive characters come together to make a dense and exciting record to get lost in.
Flying Lotus albums are always hard for me to explain. They’re very visceral listening experiences. Rhythms you feel in your bones, and melodies appearing out of dissonant clouds of noise. Caffeinated beats turn on a dime, while jazz fusion chords intertwine with hip hop sensibilities. I imagine Steven Ellison’s head filled with all of these things and him needing to create in order to stay sane. “Heroes” is a perfect example of that. Starting out in a cloud of voices and harmony, but quickly descending into a cacophony of noise and a bee swarm beat. We then settle into the smooth groove of “Post Requisite”. This is primo Flying Lotus. A real head bobber and that busy bass line that pushes you along. Flying Lotus makes some of the most intriguing instrumental hip hop/fusion hybrid out there. That Madlib influence continues to live on.
Like on You’re Dead! Ellison gets some help on some tracks from hip hop artists. One of the best is “More” featuring Anderson .Paak. There’s a early 70s New York groove here, and .Paak’s delivery is similar to Kendrick Lamar but with his own brand of smooth flow. “Yellow Belly” is an out there track feature Tierra Whack. My favorite line is “My shoes are untied/he says I’m trippin'”. The music is kind of harrowing, really.
Little Dragon guests on the 70s soul jam “Spontaneous”, which honestly sounds just like Unknown Mortal Orchestra. David Lynch even shows up on “Fire Is Coming”, where Lynch tells a bizarre tale in only the way David Lynch can. Chaotic music ensues.
The more I listen to Flamagra the more it has grown on me. I’ve found a lot to connect with, much more so than my first couple times with You’re Dead!. While Flying Lotus hasn’t ascended to another music plateau, he is further exploring all the landscapes of the level he reached 5 years ago. Flamagra is a music feast. Dig in.