Following on from 2008’s Los Angeles, Cosmogramma, the new record from west coast experimental jazz and beat merchant Flying Lotus, is a continuation of his exploration of melding beat musics of all genres and sub genres. For this record, released on Warp, FlyLo (as he’s known by “the kids”) invites ‘sleb guests of A-list status such as Thom Yorke to rub shoulders with bass virtuoso Thundercat and LA chanteuse Laura Darlington. The result is a fascinating melting pot of all the beat music that seems to be filling the airwaves, from paranoid dupstep to deep psychedelic jazz grooves, free form workouts and even the odd 4/4 house groove, FlyLo certainly knows how to create a smoky, dense atmosphere.
Opening with ‘Clock Catcher’, an ominous analogue filter wobble with harp and drum atmospherics that build seamlessly into the stuttering off beat clack and shuffle of ‘Pickled!’, the listener is clearly in for an aural bubble bath of a record. What’s so appealing, as much as anything else on this record, is the lushness of it. The electronics blend with the vinyl loops and live instrumentation in such a way that the line blurs, sometimes beyond recognition, as to where the acoustic instruments end and the electronics and samples begin. An artistic achievement that, in a world where, increasingly, dance music seems so cold, so cynical and so formulaic, to have someone so wilfully and skilfully manipulating beats and atmospherics like a painter uses oils is a joy to behold. ‘Intro//A Cosmic Drama’ features, courtesy of string arranger extraordinaire Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, some gorgeous keening string lines and more harp wonder from Rebekah Raff.
It feels, in a very real sense, that analysing this record track by track misses the point. For a lot of it, it’s really not all that obvious that it’s moved from track to track, it’s an album that keeps subtly evolving and shifting, as atmospherics and textures wash over the hazy vinyl beats, more furious free jazz bass works outs from Thundercat come and go and Thom Yorke casts his world weary cry over the voice edit texture bed of ‘..And The World Laughs With You’. One can’t help but think of vintage ‘Head, particularly tracks such as the vocal cut up fest and Kid A opener ‘Everything In It’s Right Place’ and much of Amnesiac’s post-jazz deconstructions. Aside from Radiohead’s recent return to a more pop-rock centric trajectory, it makes perfect sense hearing Yorke in this context.
There’s much about this record that screams CLASSIC from every track. Many of the great experimental pop crossover records have been perfect examples of seemingly disparate genres being moulded into a cohesive whole. Where Mezzanine (Massive Attack’s 1998 pan global big hitter) touched on metal doom, dub haze and 80’s synthetica, Cosmogramma continues the work in this field of bass music genre melding. ‘HmmMmm’ moves in a heartbeat from falsetto croon pop to the deep house groove and Kaoss Pad vox edit work of ‘Do The Astral Plane’. With track titles such as that, one can’t help but recall the super naïve cosmic ramblings of godfather of other worldly jazz tangents, the late great Sun-Ra.
As we are transported by FlyLo through the ‘…Astral Plane’, more sharp strings glide over fuzzy synths and yawning textures and there’s a pleasing messiness to the mix, nothing’s too clean or neat, but there’s a precision in the kick to keep things grooving. One for the Shoreditch dance halls, certainly. The bizarrely titled ‘German Haircut’ harks back to FlyLo’s aunt and matriach of experimental music Alice Coltrane. Harp can easily be mistaken for sitar given some of the crafty processing that’s going on and it’s no surprise to read that FlyLo is a fan of (music programming software du jour) Ableton. There’s a feeling that every sound and texture has been moulded and shaped, like putty in the artist’s hands and Ableton certainly lends itself to this kind of 2.0 jiggery pokery. As the track progresses with some smoky sax from FlyLo’s cousin and son of Alice and John Coltrane – Ravi, the creative audio manipulation sets up an atmospheric melange of textures. ‘Recoiled’ builds on this with some helium vox and a great shuffle beat. ‘Table Tennis’, which features the cool vocal presence of LA darling Laura Darlington and, rather fittingly, a percussion loop taken from a table tennis game. This kind of concrète attitude stretches throughout the record. The actual timbre and texture of the sound is treated with as much care as the melody and harmony, which, given the potential of Ableton etc it’s the only wise attitude to take. From the raw physicality of the fret sounds of Thundercat’s bass to the vocal glitches of Mr Yorke and crackle and stutter of the beat loops, this is a celebration of sound, as much as of music.
Concluding with the instrumental, harp laced dreamscape ‘Galaxy In Janaki’, it’s easy to see why Mary-Ann Hobbs recently referred to FlyLo as “the Hendrix of his generation”. He is an ambassador for creativity in spheres that can so often be preoccupied with macho self-aggrandising and artless posturing. A triumph of the head and the heart, and there’s more than enough to keep the feet moving too.