One of the most often repeated facts about Steven Ellison, the L.A. beatsmith better known as Flying Lotus, is his family lineage. Nephew to jazz greats Alice and John Coltrane, he has somewhat taken up the family torch and gained widespread recognition creating deep, hip-hop infused electronic music. On his third album, Cosmogramma, Flying Lotus displays not only their influence on his music but also some of their talent.
When compared to Flying Lotus’ previous albums, Cosmogramma embodies a much more expansive sound. He utilizes a wide range of live instruments, from saxophones to harps, each playing their part and adding something new to the mix. Freewheeling improvisation and swelling string sections help characterize the beats. That experimentation ensures this is an experience more than an album, and Flying Lotus is creating a sound beyond electronic or hip-hop music.
It is hard to describe the sound of Cosmogramma concisely, as Flying Lotus seems to have set about to make as dynamic a record as its instrumental arrangements are diverse. Songs like “Zodiac S**t,” which opens with a crescendo of strings and a harp but soon develops into a bass-heavy hip-hop beat, will have a complete shift about halfway through and end sounding like a different song using the same sounds.
The constant shifting of tone and wildly improvisational instrumentals make Cosmogramma an especially cohesive album. With the songs already changing inside themselves, the track changes are barely noticed. Album standout “…And The World Laughs With You” is an example how Flying Lotus crafts each song to work towards the collective effect of the album. With Thom Yorke as a featured vocalist, the track already draws the eye, and Yorke is more than capable of stealing the show. However, Yorke’s voice is used subtly, almost as another instrument to complement the rapidly progressing synths and stumbling drums. The result is an understated song, perfectly continuing the fluid effect of a live jazz album while keeping heads nodding and expressing the wonderfully concise line “I need to know you’re out there.”
Flying Lotus clearly puts effort into crafting something that, at first listen, can seem full of random sounds and give the effect of sensory overload. But he is out to make music people think about, and think to. And in Cosmogramma he has most certainly succeeded.
90 — [Rating Scale]