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White Noise: Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes

Monday, 1 October 2012

Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes

Label: Warp

If you survey the last decade or so of electronic music, few producers have been as universally lauded and appreciated as LA-based producer Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, and it’s easy to see why. He's been an important frontrunner of the LA beat crew, who have been making a name for themselves spinning deranged hip hop experiments out of their home, LA’s Low End Theory club, and has kept up a steady train of dependable releases through his own Brainfeeder label. The great nephew of legendary jazz harpist Alice Coltrane, one can hear the strains of black musical history rebounding through FlyLo’s increasingly taut productions. Some have gone as far as to call Ellison the spiritual successor to J Dilla, and he has been justly acclaimed for his last 3 LPs, where he fused elements of jazz and electronic music into thrilling hip hop hybrids; and every album so far has been a powerful and individual statement.

Through his last three albums; 1983, Los Angeles, and Cosmogramma (all of which should be required listening); Ellison’s sound has accelerated, becoming more paranoid and frenetic while also becoming increasingly concerned with sonic texture. The only direction he could justifiably pursue after the twitchy heights of Cosmogramma is deconstruction, and in Until The Quiet Comes he explores the dreamy underside of his sound, while proving that he’s still willing to innovate and sidestep expectations. In this LP he continues to eschew conventional song structure (much like Dilla) in terms of track length, but to say FlyLo’s tracks are sketches would be to miss the point; each of his albums is an impressionistic collage of moods and textures, and best enjoyed as a whole.

See Thru To U feat. Erykah Badu

Yet unlike its predecessors, UTQC will not be lauded for its big beats and wonky experimentation; Ellison really impresses here with his subtlety and restraint. In Heave(n), sampled harps and far-off vocals reach skyward but are brought down to earth by a glitchy locked groove. Later in the aptly-titled Tiny Tortures, jazzy guitar lines are pitted against jittering percussive clicks, but it is all done with such delicacy that the whole comes across more introspective contrast than jarring juxtaposition.

Here we also see a continuation of FlyLo’s vocal collaborations, a little more high profile this time; Erykah Badu and Thom Yorke are the big names here while others such as Thundercat have made a name for themselves in between this release and the last. While the guests aren’t treated quite as they were in Cosmogramma; where Yorke’s voice was warped and distilled to be merely another one of Ellison’s melodic playthings, they still never pull undue attention away from the gorgeous instrumentation. On Electric Candyman Yorke pulls off a particularly restrained performance, singing in a dreamy croak, his voice swathed and eventually engulfed by ambient mist and a vast array of shifting percussive textures.

While there are perhaps less tracks here that stand out from the whole than on previous releases, Until The Quiet Comes marks a new level of compositional sophistication for Flying Lotus. Here he creates intricate and surprising patterns of both melody and beats which play out simultaneously, meaning that it is a true delight to give a close listen to the intricacy of these productions.

Putty Boy Strut

An early standout is the bizarre Putty Boy Strut, where a wind-up toy melody is set alongside a faltering bass loop that is more than a little unnerving, before the whole thing gently unspools to gorgeous effect with the arrival of a pitch-perfect guitar line. The Nightcaller is another excellent highlight, where syncopated claps are the only thing anchoring searing synths and mutated basslines to earth before it all comes crashing down in spectacularly funky fashion for its final minute. Nor is this the only track to pull off a stunning shifty midway through- in Hunger the tune breaks loose from its gritty beats to unveil a nakedly beautiful guitar melody and celestial vocal cries.

As stated earlier, the tracks on UTQC don’t stand out from the whole as much as individual tunes did on previous FlyLo albums, and this is both a blessing and a curse. It certainly makes for a smoother, more accessible listen, but attentive listeners might be a little disappointed searching for the jagged standouts scattered across his last two LPs. Ultimately it proves to the album’s advantage however, one doesn’t need to listen intensely here, just put the album on and music will seep into your brain, rewarding enormously across repeated spins.

Until the Quiet Comes does an excellent job of continuing FlyLo’s spirited venture into the delightfully strange corners of instrumental hip hop and electronic music, but ultimately perhaps does not bring as much innovative material to the table as previous efforts. At the same time, this album is a more ambient, wistful experience than any of his past releases, and Ellison truly does excel in using his music to access some of the furthest, spaciest reaches of the subconscious.


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