Flying Lotus - Flamagra - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Flying Lotus - Flamagra

by Brian Thompson Rating:9 Release Date:2019-05-24
Flying Lotus - Flamagra
Flying Lotus - Flamagra

Flamagra may be the first proper album we’ve gotten from experimental, genre-bending composer Flying Lotus (stage name of Steven Ellison, grand-nephew of the late jazz legend Alice Coltrane) since 2014’s You’re Dead!, but the experimental multi-hyphenate has been far from idle in the five-year interim. Between trying his hand at body horror filmmaking, composing scores for various animated series, and producing tracks for the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Thundercat, he’s had his hands full. Now, with his sixth studio album, Flying Lotus has meticulously crafted his crowning opus, proving once again that even ambitions continue to soar, so does his ability to make good on them.

Much of the magic of Flamagra stems from its impressive host of collaborations. For his entire career, Flying Lotus has displayed an innate knack bringing out the best in artists seemingly of every ilk, and adding his own unique flair to their work. You don’t have to look far on the record to find an electric pairing, from George Clinton’s signature throwback, clap-along funk on "Burning Down the House" to David Lynch’s surrealist spoken word dreamscape "Fire Is Coming" to the avant-garde nu-jazz of Shabazz Palaces on “Actually Virtual.” FlyLo gives them all room to breathe, gracefully crafting an arena for them to work their magic. The richness of these spirited collaborations is felt most urgently when it’s rappers who are brought onto the track, like Anderson .Paak on explosive, spiritual “More” and Denzel Curry on the jungle sounds of "Black Balloons Reprise," referencing his own upcoming album.

Even with its erratic energy, Flamagra is deceptively intricate. It’s all too easy to become absorbed by its hypnotic grooves and lose sight of just how complex its abstract explorations in sound truly are. Flying Lotus swings wildly between genres and tones, as when the sparkling, shimmering summer flow "Post Requisite" bleeds into the idiosyncratic video game free jazz of "Heroes in a Half Shell,” and yet, it all gels seamlessly as if it were predestined to do so. The album becomes a collection of eclectic stylings that seem to play off one another’s strengths, be it the spastic, colorful "Takashi," the fluttering, old school cool of "Inside Your Home," the Balkan folk riff of "Say Something," or the tender, mystical "Remind U."  

It’s difficult to put your finger on precisely what it is, but there’s a substantial glue that tethers the album together, even as it keeps even the most attentive listeners on their toes trying to follow its assorted thematic channels. As in the past, Flying Lotus bookends Flamagra with dreamy sister tracks "Heroes" and “Hot Oct.," as a busy, aquatic introduction signals to the audience that they are embarking on a hero’s journey, and the same dulcet tones later mark their return to shore, making the album a perfectly looped circle. It’s this extensive quest for meaning that keeps us anchored throughout both the record’s hooky features (vibrant, soulful "The Climb" (featuring Thundercat), chillwave synth-pop "9 Carrots" (featuring Toro y Moi), hypnotic psychedelic, sultry "Land of Honey" (featuring Solange)) and its oddball interludes (cosmic, flowing "Andromeda," bouncy, communal "Debbie Is Depressed," transitory, wandering "Find Your Own Way Home").

Self-described as an “astral afro-futurist masterpiece of deep soul, cosmic dust, and startling originality,” Flamagra is an album for fans and naysayers alike, but more importantly, it’s an album for Flying Lotus himself. This isn’t a happy accident; this is the sort of assertive statement he had to exorcise from his conscience. Even with all its production tricks and maximalist leanings, this feels like Flying Lotus at his most unrefined, in his pure, unfiltered form. He may be working with his largest crop of collaborators to date, but one thing remains constant throughout these stormy tracks: a deep purge of emotional build up. With it, he’s set the bar incredibly high for a follow-up, but he will surely rise to the challenge. 

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