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Flying Lotus
Flamagra Nick Roseblade , June 5th, 2019 08:13

Flying Lotus returns after a five year break with another flawlessly executed album, but even if we are sure the album is great – is it actually any good? Nick Roseblade ponders

In just over a decade Steve ‘Flying Lotus’ Ellison has gone from unknown LA beat maker to one of the most influential and in demand producers in the world. As well as this, Ellison runs the Brainfeeder imprint that has pushed musical boundaries for over a decade. His previous five albums are critically lauded, combining elements of wonky hip-hop, bouncy funk, nu-jazz, sparse electronica, and neo-psychedelia to create something that sounds of their time, whilst simultaneously progressive and futuristic. On his sixth album, Flamagra, Ellison pushes himself, and listeners to deliver a concept album about an eternal flame that channels astral afro-futurism via the LA bass scene.

Everything on Flamagra sounds amazing. The beats are crisp and crunchy, the synths and loops are tight and catchy, the basslines are deep and wobbly and the vocals floating above it all take centre stage, but because everything sounds so perfectly measured it’s hard to get excited about the next song, as it all merges into one long sixty-two minute listening experience. This might sound counter-intuitive – because isn’t that the point, to have something that sounds faultless, sublime and flows together? Probably, but after twenty mins it’s hard to get excited about the next song as you know the unrelenting perfection will continue.

The songs that really stand out are the ones that deviate from the blueprint. ‘Land Of Honey’ is full of delicate 30s piano runs and minimal guitars with Solange delivering an understated vocal performance that generates chills and wide grins in equal measure. Tierra Whack is brash and unapologetic on the swaggery ‘Yellow Belly’. ‘Say Something’ is filled with wonky piano and a delicate string section. ‘Fire is Coming’ features David Lynch ranting on about, well, fire and feels like unused dialogue from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. ‘The Climb’ sees another glorious collaboration with Thundercat and is one of the standout moments Flamagra has to offer. Meandering bass riffs, falsetto vocals, and minimal beats draw you in, while strings swirl about you gently, offering a change in texture and tone.

Flamagra is everything that we’ve come to expect from FlyLo: a collection of songs expertly composed and produced that we are left scratching our heads over, wondering if anyone else should even bother. However this is also the problem with the record. It isn’t that Flamagra is a bad album – far from it – but at times it feels like a slog to get through as the songs are so incredibly dense and earnest. Ellison’s work with Kenrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, and Thundercat shows he’s an excellent producer, but perhaps he needs someone to help channel his own creative outputs so they meet the pleasure and enjoyment of those releases.

After listening to Flying Lotus, the Walter Yetnikoff quote about Leonard Cohen comes to mind. "Look, FlyLo; we know you're great, but we don't know if you're any good.” This is something that only time, and repeat listens, will tell. But for now, the jury’s still out.