Tuesday, 11 May 2010
Album review: Cosmogramma - Flying Lotus (Warp)
Every so often a record comes out that completely changes the rules, confounding expectations of what is possible. Think about the first time you heard 3 Feet High and Rising or Odelay or Entroducing. Albums so fundamentally fresh that they actually redefine what modern music is and create genres in their wake. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we might just have another…Cosmogramma is Los Angeles producer Steve Ellison’s third album as Flying Lotus following his debut 1983(which actually came out in 2006)and the excellent Los Angeles which came out two years later. It’s fair to say that it is his most realised record to date, bringing together a dizzying array of styles into a sound which, at first listen, is off kilter and confusing, but with time creates a rewarding tapestry which takes the listener on a drug induced trip into dubstep, free jazz, baroque soul techno and J-Dilla style hip hop.
The sound that Ellison and others bring to the party has, in fact, been emerging for a while now. Influenced by the UK dubstep movement the slow bassy dynamic has been taken into a new realm by producers such as Glasgow’s Hudson Mohawke, the excentric Gaslamp Killer and Lotus himself. These protagonists have moved on from the smooth electronic sounds of dubstep to create something more off-kilter or ‘wonky’ as the genre has become known in some circles. His other key influence is undoubtedly jazz, perhaps unsurprising when you consider that he is the nephew of Alice Coltrane(his cousin Ravi Coltrane plays tenor sax on the album).
The start of the record is suitably erratic - harp riffs give way to double bass all underpinned with heavy, jagged beats. Its five tracks in on Zodiac Shit that the hard beats give way to a mellow soundtracky vibe and the album shifts into a druggy dreamstate which is maintained throughout. If you are the sort of person who likes a good tune, this album is not for you. This is all about pushing boundaries, taking music onto the next level to create something truly new. That isn't to say it is necessarily difficult. There are a number of moments of beauty and even, in some sort of concession to commerciality, a number of guest vocalists including Thom Yorke and Thundercat. Its fair to say though that their vocals are used to drift in and out of the tapestry rather than to lead the charge. The Yorke track And the world laughs starts off as electro funk before giving way to the Radiohead man's claustrophobic vocal then heading off in a joyful direction at its close. This is sypmtomatic of the album as a whole - a range of emotions conveyed in quick succession - the sheer ambition of what Flying Lotus attempts here is astounding with just snatches of influences identified here and there (The Stepney-esque intro to Mmmmmm for example or the odd snippet of free jazz). The resulting take out is of one elongated piece of music which takes the listener on an otherworldly journey rather than individual songs .
Time will tell if this record is as significant as it sounds. We're only 5 months into a new decade but like Aphex Twin before him you can't help think that Ellison will spawn a host of imitaters who will spend the rest of the decade playing catch up while he leaps forward again to a new sound. If you want to know where music's future lies I suggest you buy this record. Patience will be required for it to reveal its depths but once identified this is a sonic adventure which will reward time and time again.