I’ll always have more to say about Flying Lotus’s fantastic 2008 LP Los Angeles — its charms have only increased with time. But, here and now, the interesting thing about it is that it’s given 26-year-old, San Fernando Valley-reared architect Steve Ellison the leverage to do something wildly risky and ambitious.
I speak of Cosmogramma, a jazzy “space opera” (a concept that, at least since the most excessive prog-rock of the 1970s fizzled, is most readily associated with L. Ron Hubbard) that already has beat-nerds salivating and Tweeting worldwide. Compared to this, Los Angeles sounds downright rough. Minimalist.
Cosmogramma is, if nothing else, a very, very busy piece of work. Mad busy. But it does get the job done. FlyLo’s strength has always been his knack for combining aesthetics as diverse as the lackadaisical thump of Dilla, the skittering whirr of mid-’90s “electronica,” whatever “dubstep” is (I was rather into it when it was called “illbient”), the alluring clunkiness of the turn-of-the-century Slabco roster, outright musique concrete, and the chilly minimalism of what I’ll christen “roots techno,” and always with a chilly, haunting melody somewhere in the mix.
This time, at least for the disc’s first half, he considerably ratchets up the speed, and adds more obvious live instruments. When a whizzing IDM beat dukes it out with a noodling live bass, it still, by my lights, qualifies, loosely, as “hip hop.” But Cosmogramma will assuredly subtract a decade from the life expectancy of any purist hip-hop head unlucky enough to hear it. Much is made of FlyLo’s familial relation to Alice Coltrane, and, verily, Cosmogramma can be as easily described as a jazz record with hip-hop tendencies.
By 30 minutes in, things have cooled off noticeably. Latter tracks are either relatively simple, bittersweet pop (much akin to the material near the end of Los Angeles) or full-blown abstractions.
Cosmogramma is hardly the perfect “follow up” to a genuine future classic. At first, it sounds a bit of a mess, and takes serious patience to unpack. But its catchiness does emerge with time, and it cements Ellison’s position as one of the few genuinely unpredictable artists at work.
By Emerson Dameron