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Posted on May 4th, 2010 (11:14 am) by Nicholas Henderson

Charles Mingus littered his inspirations and influences all over his finest hour, 1959’s Mingus Ah Um; “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” is a farewell to saxophonist Lester Young, and “Open Letter To Duke” refers to the most important figure in Mingus’ development as a musician—the legendary Duke Ellington. In some circles, the belief is that being too informed of one’s influences risks cliché, but there are others who put honoring one’s heroes above the threat of sounding too derivative. LCD Soundsystem, for instance, see no harm in wearing their influences on their collective sleeve; James Murphy has joked that he is nothing more than an accomplished imitator.

Then there is Steven Ellison, otherwise known to the world as Flying Lotus. The Jimi Hendrix of beats. The next Aphex Twin. The new big deal in electronic music. “My greatest influences are my family, I’m lucky to have been around so many accomplished musicians,” Ellison has said. Being great-nephew to Alice Coltrane, the wife of John Coltrane, one of the most important and innovative jazz musicians of all time, that is saying quite a lot. It is no surprise then, that Flying Lotus has crafted Cosmogramma, an explosive and unnerving electronic album that, after repeated listens, unfolds into a post-modern jazz masterpiece. Unlike the narrowly focused swinging beats of Los Angeles, Cosmogramma is a record about being overwhelmed. Increasingly complex rhythms and progressions pair with Flying Lotus’ flair for creating unlikely melodies out of spare parts to create an album which, elusive to genre, can only be called jazz.

Like Damon Albarn’s generational opera Plastic Beach, the themes explored throughout Cosmogramma address those concerns which seem to apply to us all these days: text messages, file transfers, and overwhelming, forward marching technological terrors. On “…And The World Laughs With You,” the first song on the album with any lyrics, a jealous Thom Yorke repeatedly texts a significant other, “I need to know you’re out there/I need to know you’re out there/ I need to know you’re out there somewhere.” His cries scatter and dissolve around FlyLo’s melancholy bass-line and the twists and turns of the songs Nintendo-core synth glitches. Later, on the breathtaking “Table Tennis,” Laura Darlington pleas, “transfer to me, transfer to me,” with a lovesick desperation that is at once emotionally haunting and generationally relevant in a nauseating and deprecating sort of way. Cosmogramma seems to be about distance and mediation. Layers of filth, reverb and technological trickery keep the album’s heart at arm’s length. As the onion is peeled apart, the astute listener will find more than your average Aphex Twin album’s worth of blips and bleeps. The album has an emotional depth that few electronic records this frantic, dense and compositionally unpredictable have been able to match. Sufjan Stevens’ Enjoy Your Rabbit comes to mind, but it still doesn’t seem like much of a comparison.

There are many people who will never find anything to love about Flying Lotus. If you haven’t yet wrapped your head around what he’s already been doing, Cosmogramma isn’t the pop crossover smash that is going to make you re-evaluate his entire catalog. If you are already in his wheelhouse, you will surely find yourself more comfortable upon hearing this rare and exotic gem of a forward thinking electronic jazz record. This is Steven Ellison displaying his influences with one arm, and destroying them with the other. The results, as always, are inspiring, rewarding, and undeniably Flying Lotus.

Track List:
1. Clock Catcher
2. Pickled!
3. Nose Art
4. Intro//A Cosmic Drama
5. Zodiac Shit
6. Computer Face//Pure Being
7. …And the World Laughs With You [ft. Thom Yorke]
8. Arkestry
9. Mmmhmm [ft.Thundercat]
10. Do the Astral Plane
11. Satelllliiiiiteee
12. German Haircut
13. Recoiled
14. Dance Of the Pseudo Nymph
15. Drips//Auntie’s Harp
16. Table Tennis [ft. Laura Darlington]
17. Galaxy in Janaki

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