Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Here's what I missed... Flying Lotus

Hey, it's a new column! Here I'll be talking about stand-out records and artists that have somehow escaped my hawk-like attention to various music pushers. This week it's laptop artist Flying Lotus' turn to impress me (and he does, he really does).

Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma
Flying Lotus (nee Steven Ellison).

While I confess, I do get all warm and tingly when I think about experimental artists like James Blake and The Books (artists who make weird sounds that people will either love or hate or never know exists), based on the sort of music he experiments with, Flying Lotus shouldn't really be my thing. And yet, here I am, sucked into the intricate, trip-hoppy decadence that is 2010's Cosmogramma. Maybe I'm just drawn to the experimental jazz interludes explored in tracks like "German Haircut", or the sense that the entire album is constructed by a giddy, omnipotent puppet-master. Flying Lotus (or, as he is more familiarly known, FlyLo) doesn't so much guide you through each plot twist and turn, but instead throws them at you with a deliberate air, saying, "Don't worry, you're going to like where I take you."

The jazz influence is intrinsic in every track. Rhythmic motifs and sound clips are repeated several times, modified, and then riffed on, with certain "instruments" (often electronic sounds) given space to solo. Going beyond this album, there's the Cosmogramma Alt Takes EP, which I haven't gotten into yet, but which points to FlyLo's insatiable need to reinterpret - something jazz enthusiasts can relate to.

With some artists their music seems like unwieldy beasts only barely contained within slapshod rhythmic structures and a vague verse-chorus-verse setup. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; some groups, like the sprawling super-band Broken Social Scene, cultivate this aesthetic to their advantage. With the tracks on Cosmogramma there's a sense of control, of cultivated musicianship that encourages expeditions into the landscape of each track. Unlike some more trance or house oriented electronic dance music, the tracks on Cosmogramma don't sprawl - they have definite beginnings and endings, and are kept short (the longest being only a little over four minutes long). Yet, despite their brevity, there's a lot of ideas packed into each one- or two-minute long opus.

Stand-out track's "Do the Astral Plane" and "Table Tennis (featuring Laura Darlington)" combine floating melodies with shuffling rhythmic quirks, and, in the case of "Table Tennis (featuring Laura Darlington)", a found-sound recording of an actual table tennis game (found-sound/unconventional instrumentation are two of my favourite things). Other tracks like "Drips//Auntie's Harp" infuse cascading strings with 8-bit sequels, sewing high and low art - as well as electronic and analog - together without any obvious seams.

I'm including the video for "Kill Your Co-Workers", which is actually not from Cosmogramma but from the EP Pattern+Grid World. It features murderous animated robots on parade hacking up some gleeful spectators, so that should give you an idea of how awesome it is.

In May, Flying Lotus will be performing at Sasquatch! Music Festival in Quincy, Washington, and that's about it for upcoming tour dates. He has three full-length albums out and a list of EPs, all of which you can purchase through multiple different avenues online, conveniently indexed on his website.

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