You’re probably as tired of reading Flying Lotus background checks as I am, so let’s skip the pedigree chat and cut to the chase: Until the Quiet Comes is a weak, unnecessarily portentous title for a great album. I’m going to take this further: Freed of context, this is his best album. It’s not as gratifyingly raw as 1983 or as paradigm-shifting as Los Angeles or as self-important as Cosmogramma, but it’s more expansive and refined taken in one sitting. And more than his others, it’s nigh impossible to see the trees from the forest — I’ve been listening to it straight through almost exclusively because it earns that kind of investment. You’ll want to listen to the whole thing rather than picking out a “Golden Diva” here or a “Recoiled” there for your chill-out playlist. Unless you came just for Thom Yorke, in which case “Electric Candyman” is going to disappoint you. He’s barely recognizable.
The most fascinating aspect to it, in fact, is what I’m hearing in contrast to what Steven Ellison is describing in the press, specifically the Wax Poetics Q&A he did recently when asked what he had in mind for the sound of Until the Quiet Comes. Here’s the money line: “I didn’t want to make another jazz album. I wanted it to be musical but without having too much musician influence on it — more hip-hop and, at the same time, more like Stereolab or Portishead.”
It’s not like Quiet suffers from being overly academic, but to say it’s not as jazzy as Cosmogramma is glib. Maybe Cosmo had more live instrumentation and didn’t play up the hip-hop connection, but to paraphrase J.J. Johnson, jazz is restless. And for a record named after the pursuit of a steady headspace, it’s ironic that Quiet never stays put.
What initially drew audiences to FlyLo was his ability to blend Dilla’s heavy hip-hop thud with the heady IDM of Daedelus. Subsequent associations with the nascent Low End Theory crew, Dublab, and eventually Brainfeeder helped him expand his purview to include dubstep and the European dance music world. All that high-minded consciousness talk and life-altering spirituality stuff was the verbal equivalent of channeling neo-soul. Recent work with Earl Sweatshirt and Schoolboy Q shows he’s still got ties to hip-hop. The family connections have lent additional context to everything he does. In order to keep shifting since 1983, he’s kept exploring by absorbing. Until the Quiet Comes reflects that.
Speaking strictly in terms of sound design, Quiet doesn’t sound nearly as compressed on a whole as his other albums — I’m willing to wager that looking at it as a wave form would be a lot more interesting than past endeavors. Ellison still leans a little too much on sidechaining in his delivery (the nocturnal pleasures of “Heave(n)” and the bright cosmic funk of “The Nightcaller” are opposite ends of the consummate Flying Lotus track in this regard), but you don’t get blown away by a kickdrum often enough to notice, and elements in each track are easier to identify. Away from the beats, a track like “DMT” (with official Brainfeeder bassist Thundercat) doesn’t see the vocals overpower the keyboards or vice versa. It’s an enjoyable equilibrium.
Aside from the glaringly misplaced videogame chintz of “Sultan’s Request,” it’s tough to find fault with Until the Quiet Comes. Ellison has always had an air about him of someone who possesses the rare talent of making his art sound as focused as it does free. Here, at last, it sounds like he’s channeled that ideal headspace, that desired quiet. The result is fully formed funk concrète. And what is funk concrète but another definition of jazz?
By Patrick Masterson