Posted on Jun 16th 2008 12:38 am
Warp Records 2008
17 Tracks. 43mins17secs
Flying Lotus’s family credentials could hardly be more legendary. Grand son of Marilyn Mcleod, who penned songs for Diana Ross, The Four Tops and countless other Motown legends, and great nephew of jazz legend Alice Coltrane and cousin of Ravi Coltrane, Steven Ellison has quite a lot to live up to. With his first offering, 1983, released two years ago on Californian imprint Plug Research, Ellison set the foundation for his classic blend of hip-hop infused electronica and established Flying Lotus alongside the likes of Dntel, Madlib or Daedelus. Having consequently moved to London’s Warp Records, Flying Lotus delivered the rather impressive Reset EP last year, and is now bringing out his second album.
Dedicated to the city in which he grew up, Los Angeles is a largely instrumental collection, with only a handful of tracks featuring vocal contributors. FlyLo effortlessly glides through dense atmospheres, crisp soundscapes and razor sharp beats to create compelling sonic vignettes which range from just under a minute to just over four. The album opens with the dense and ominous electronic soundwaves of Brainfeeder, but the mood lifts rapidly with the sunnier shores of Breathe . Something/Stella STar and Beginners Falafel, where FlyLo sets head-nudging grooves in motion and places various noises and sample to add some soul to the respective pieces. Thereafter, the process remains overall faithful to this template, with intricate soundscapes carefully woven and placed in the background, supported by sprawling multi-layered rhythmic structures while melodies comes in and disappear continuously.
Neither totally spaced out nor full on, FlyLo’s beats are generously dispensed without ever becoming overwhelming, even when the mood turns heavy, especially on Riot or GNG BNG, and his sound collages share a sense of depth with those of many West Coast hip-hop artists. FlyLo distils sophisticated grooves and playful sound formations throughout the record and manages to refresh the general atmosphere with almost every track. This is in many ways a dangerous approach as it could easily lead to overload, as Daedelus’s recent album showed in parts, but FlyLo keeps things well and truly in check here and avoids the many pitfalls such a wide-ranging project can generate.
Ellison grew up in Los Angeles surrounded by the rich musical heritage the city had to offer, from sixties psychedelic pop and seventies soul to more recent hip-hop and manages to elegantly channel part of this legacy in his own work, feeding his compositions with various combinations of genres and styles. This unassuming reverence goes as far as Ellison paying a tasteful tribute to his family when a sample of John Coltrane’s voice is dotted over Comet Course.
The three vocal tracks are found toward the end of the record, first with the dense and chilled Roberta Flack, featuring Dolly, then with the more stripped down and soulful Testament, recorded with FlyLo’s long term collaborator Gonja Sufi. The album closes with Auntie’s Lock/Infinitum, Ellison’s atmospheric and almost ethereal collaboration with Laura Darlington, who is, amongst other things, one half of The Long Lost, and wife of Daedelus.
With his sophomore effort, Flying Lotus has undoubtedly widened his scope and refined his template, resulting in Los Angeles being a record that works on a variety of levels. Ellison certainly knows how to create rich atmospheric settings and effective grooves, and this album will only reaffirm his position as leader of the new generation of West Coast hip-hop-influenced artists.
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