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Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma




Steve Ellison, aka Flying Lotus (or FlyLo, as he is affectionately called by fans and critics) is a well-known genre bending music producer on the Warp Records roster. Hailing from California, his musical influences and interests extend from experimental music to indie hip-hop, IDM, video game music, and jazz. He is emerging as one of the most innovative young producers in electronic music.      

To date, FlyLo is best known for “Los Angeles” (2008), his influential second full-length album, and first released by Warp Records. With it, FlyLo crafted a fantastic leftfield hip-hoptronica album, one that was notable for its grainy, celestial, and futuristic hip-hop feel. But “Los Angeles” was still a well-grounded album, one that showed a shared musical sense with such artists as Prefuse 73, Jay Dee, and Dabrye. I was hooked after the first listen.  

“Cosmogramma,” however, is a different beast altogether. At first listen, it is a more difficult album to digest. Ellison still has his penchant for brevity in his musical ideas. But in this new album, he has taken everything up a notch, including the grit and the futuristic wonder. With “Cosmogramma,” he has looked further afield to jazz for sources inspiration. At time using jazz loops, funk-inspired music, video game sounds, orchestration torn straight from 1940s and 1950s movies, or static hisses, FlyLo creates a cacophonous genre-mixing experience. And to tell the truth, I did not know what to think after the first listen.  

But a few more listens reveals the genius of this album. This is not as apparent in the opening tracks, which have a familiar feel. “Pickled” for instance, feels like a modern remake of tracks from Amon Tobin’s “Bricolage.” And “Zodiac S**t” has no less familiar a feel—owing to strong beats and a gritty hip-hop-esque nature, the track would have fitted equally well on his previous album.

While the intro tracks are pretty good, “Cosmogramma” really picks up toward the middle of the album. It is from here that it becomes a true genre-bending experience. FlyLo’s inspirations shift to jazz and, to an extent, funk and (at times) even pop. Thom Yorke’s vocals inflict a semi-pop aesthetic into “…And the World Laughs With You.” “Mmmhmmm” features a fast-moving bass line that interacts well with the drum programming and vocals. Towards the end of the track, FlyLo shifts gears, and has a vocal scat lead into the nouveau funk-inspired “Do the Astral Plane.” The more I listen to this track’s punchy bass and string, the more I strain my neck (from too much head bobbing). The following track, “Satelllliiiiiiiteee,” is equally well executed. It begins with a cacophonous, gritty soundscape that slowly morphs into a straight jazz track. And “Drips / Auntie’s Harp” is perhaps my favorite track on the album. It mixes genres, blending hard-hitting drum programming with both videogame sounds and strings runs that feel like they were pulled straight out of a Disney movie.   

I could go on and on. After all, FlyLo has upped his game. This confident, soulful album makes “Los Angeles” feel rather conventional, and it secures Ellison’s place among the most influential and imaginative of young producers. FlyLo is evolving. I cannot wait to see where his music goes…  

 Jeremy Yellen

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