Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma

by Rich Morris Rating:9 Release Date:2010-05-03

In the two years since Flying Lotus (aka Steven Ellison) unveiled his sophomore album Los Angeles, a slow-release capsule of psychedelic, constantly evolving hip hop, his stature has grown through word-of-mouth without him having to lift a finger. He has become the cool artist to name drop while echoes of his deeply chilled, kaleidoscopic genre-mash can be found everywhere from chillwave exponent Toro Y Moi to forward-thinking dubstep artists like Starkey and Rustie.

Crucially, Ellison knows exactly what to do with this newfound hipness: keep doing what you're doing and collaborate with Thom York. York's contribution to Cosmogramma, 'And the World Laughs with You', arrives splat-bang in the middle of the album. Before and after that we get a record full of twists and turns, lysergically pulsing synths, unexpected outbreaks of tribal percussion and sideways trips into cool jazz and avant electronica. It is, in a nutshell, classic Flying Lotus.

Ellison has dubbed Cosmogramma's sound "space opera" and this is very apt. Listening to the fuzzy beats and orchestral flourishes of 'Zodiac Shit' or the oddly muted, simmering doo wop and scat singing of 'Do the Astral Plane' feels like visiting strange new worlds and entering into ritual dances with the alien beings there. The feeling is similar to the one Aphex Twin conjured on his Selected Ambient Works Volume 2, only here a fat beat is always looming on the skyline like the whirlwind in The Wizard of Oz, about to spin you off to somewhere new.

If early tracks like 'Computer Face/Pure Being' and 'Intro/Cosmic Drama' feel a little inconsequential, or little more than skits, just remember that, as with Los Angeles, these tunes may take a while to seep into your mind - one of the reasons it took the wider world a while to catch onto that record's genius. Besides, the dazzlingly inventive second half easily makes up for the first half's lack of immediacy.

The aforementioned 'And the World Laughs with You' makes a great half-way point in this respect. It's a standout track in its own right, but it also marks the point where an emotional heart begins to beat under Fly-Lo's trippy merry-go-round. York's effects-saturated, looping, muzzy vocals shimmer above a constantly shifting base of hissing beats and nervy electronica. It's like Ellison has crafted his own inimitable take on the electro-goth of Depeche Mode. It's a superlative statement and is hands down one of the tracks of 2010.

Another beautiful and surprising moment comes with 'Table Tennis', featuring the vocals of Laura Darlington. Surprising because Ellison actually manages to make percussion out of the impact of balls on rackets; beautiful because listening to it is simply one the nicest things you can do for your ears this year. As with 'RobertaFlack' and 'Testament' on Los Angeles, vocal-led tracks like 'Table Tennis' and 'And the World Laughs with You' provide vital moments of clarity in Cosmogramma's sensory overload.

The nerve-edge feel of 'And the World Laughs with You' acts as a gateway into a second half which is more relaxed but also more subdued and melancholic than the first. The limpid funk and Spanish guitar of 'Mmmhmm' are gorgeous, but there's a shifting unease at the tune's heart. The echoing sax and tumbling drums on 'German Haircut', meanwhile, sound downright mournful.

The moment when that track's closing swirls of harp dissolve into the crunching beats of 'Recoiled' sums up everything that's great about Ellison's music: the effortless wedding of two such contrasting sounds is exactly what acts like Junk Culture, Dosh and others are now trying to achieve.

Cosmogramma has moments like these in spades. What it doesn't have, and what some may have been expecting, is any real quantum leap forward from the sound of Los Angeles. Cosmogramma is undoubtedly cut from the same cloth as that record and the sense of a thematic continuation is strong. The difference is that now, rather than exploring the ignored alleyways and back-streets of his city, Ellison is visiting uncharted regions of space. We look forward to his next visit home.

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