Fine, Flying Lotus, I guess you’re KIND of a big deal here at Dolby Disaster, a couple days out of the week. Oh, I named my contact email after you. How’d that get there?
Ok saying that the first hip-hop guest appearance singlehandledly precludes this effort from a perfect rating may be a TAD simplistic, but then, so is being the millionth rapper to cheesily rehash that C.L. Smooth line “When they reminisce over you” at the end of a stanza. Just ’cause you’re pourin’ syrup on this don’t make it pancakes, Anderson .Paak.
Well, I don’t think anybody had any doubts that Flamagra would be a DISORIENTING listen, at its core, an overwhelming listen, a troubled, disconcerted an ultimately American listen. And in truth, much of this new music is effective and is unlike anything we’ve ever heard. But also at his most futuristic, Steven Ellison, the beatmaker musically christened as Flying Lotus has a way of grafting his own signature VIBE on to the matters at hand. So when we get that distinct taste of Fly Lo here, like on the excellent albeit short first three tracks, the accomplishment comes in the form of the fact that he’s just doing it MORE — it’s like a horse that’s learned to run faster. He’s more “flying,” figuratively, and more Flying Lotus, literally, than he’s ever been in his career.
And then… we get to the Anderson .Paak track. Don’t get me wrong, I’m generally a fan of this dude’s flow, but I find all of his musical accompaniment to be pretty selfsame, and even before that irksome C.L./Kanye nod I was already pi**ed off that this one-dimensional hack was coming in and screwing up my Flying Lotus experience. I mean where to start: it opens up with this cheesy gospel sample. Why the he** would Flying Lotus need a fu**ing gospel sample? All over the first three tracks on this album he’s weaving these elaborate tapestries of the most glorious programmed electronica, tying in textural synths and phat bass all over these complex, galloping rhythms. What’s more, at this point, he was keeping things light, with short, snippet type beat tracks sort of like Donuts type material, which is usually pretty appropriate for parties anyway when the conversations can turn on a dime. This “More” Anderson .Paak fluff stomps in at a clumsy four minutes and 17 seconds, bombastically spewing some meaningless rapping over what was erstwhile some of the more exciting instrumental music I’d heard so far this year, of which there has been plenty, mind you.
Sadly, things are slow to really get going again after the abominable failure that is “More,” as with “Capillaries” he’s doing something about as deep as just that, with this stupid club beat that could have easily come from The Orb, Roni Size or some other ’90s act. Luckily “Capillaries” blossoms out with some jazz element that’s just a little more damaged and subtle than that di**-pic, overblown gospel garbage we got with his almightiness Anderson .Paak. More importantly, “Takashi” spreads its wings and unfolds as one of the best songs of this decade, a tense, indescribable dubstep polka full of the noodley Flying Lotus half-melodies we’ve come to indulge in within this larger musical era. “Yellow Belly” offers what might be the first good spoken-word narrative on the album, with Tierra Whack, over a continued, conceptual breakbeat that reminded me of a stoned, West Coast version of Gang Gang Dance. Other highlights include “Debbie is Depressed,” “The Climb” with Thundercat and “9 Carrots with budding West Coast producer Toro y Moi.
At Flamagra’s heart, apropos of the title, is a central black American anger. This is very important to understand this album. I look in particular to the final track “Hot Oct.,” on which Ellison obstinately sustains the blue-note, jazz elements in his half-melodies, despite that a major chord respite might have been in order at this album closeur. But more and more, things are looking like calculated maneuvers between the races, whereas to be honest blacks have always had the upper hand in music and Flamagra will do nothing to alter that prevailing rule. But it’s beside the point, ultimately, as to whether “Hot Oct.” works or not, because at the heart of Flamagra is a larger issue of us vs. them race relations in America, the exact semantic implications of which are often impossible to express other than within the mechanism of truly vanguard music such as this.