Review of Flying Lotus' album 'Los Angeles' released through Warp.
An early indicator that hip hop producer Steven Ellision (A.K.A. Flying Lotus) is a force to be reckoned with is the ease at which he has stepped out of the imposing shadow cast by his great aunt and Jazz great, Alice Coltrane (wife of a certain John). Taking his dynastic urges and melting them into rhythms and sounds garnered from every corner of the globe, FlyLo extends the already distended atmospherics of his breakout release, The Reset EP, on his first Warp long player, Los Angeles. It would be easy to pigeonhole this record as 'broken-beat' or a more sombre, glitchy take on the 'wobbly' jazz beats made popular by Mr Scruff in the 90's. The overall aesthetic is better approached as an application of free jazz principles (improvisation, spontaneity, experimentation) to instrumental hip hop, but with little direct recourse to jazz music per se, and the result is a brilliant if sometimes unpalatable record that finds a unique place for itself above and beyond the cavalcade of sonic histories that it brings together.
The considerable soundscapes are built around a totem of African djembe rhythms, dub-step sparsness, Baile grooves and deep beat production that find reference points in Doctor Octagon, Madlib and Kode9, but the sheer scope and the restless, non-linear shifts in tone and tempo render any comparison both inappropriate and futile. 'Breathe. Something/Stellar Star' introduces the recurrent theme of the natural world, with the lazy, pounding bass drum and lilting, mesmeric keys surrounded on all sides by whirrs, bleeps and flutters that evoke the night time activity of a dense rainforest or great plain. The middle section of 'Comet Course', 'Orbit 405' and 'Golden Diva' uses the solar system as a template. Fuzzy frequencies, attacking rimshots, undulating bass and short, sharp electric stabs create an other-worldly aesthetic that emerges effortlessly. We are brought sharply back down to earth with the brooding, pulsating dubstep of 'Riot' and the boom-bap adroitness channelled through 'GNG BNG', and end up dancing somewhere between France and Brazil during the cowbell shuffle and house keyboard riff of 'Parisian Goldfish'. The albums jazz influence is most keenly felt on 'Testament (feat Gonja Sufi)', which features a slow, uncomfortable swing beat that is underscored by menacing double bass. The part gospel, part jazz vocal strikes fear into the expertly created spaces. The standout track, perhaps. Proceedings are brought to a close by the off-beat lullaby of 'Auntie's Lock/Infinitum (feat Laura Darlington)'. The choral vocal, subtle keys and gentle hi hats resolve the Flying Lotus biosphere in rest.
Lotus starts from a place that predates recorded sound, displaying a deep understanding for the texture of natural bass, rather than copying or reinterpreting 'bass sounds' from recorded music. His innate grasp of the link between natural vibrations and instrumentation, and his unwillingness to provide the listener with an easy route into his world, result in each song revealing itself gradually over a number of listens, and slowly drifting into place as if naturally emanating from a source to which only he has access, and for which we feel grateful for being allowed a momentary glimpse into. A future classic.