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So it seems that the other week we (by which I mean journalists, Drowned in Sound journalists in particular) got on Flying Lotus’ nerves a little. Now I’m not going to go into that whole furore here, but suffice to say we can learn one thing from FlyLo’s aquacrunk-inspired twitter diatribe: Steven Ellison doesn’t like people trying to categorise his music (particularly not as, err... aquacrunk).
Of course, no musician ever likes having their music ascribed to a genre; it’s just how it goes. Us journalists love to make up ridiculous names for stuff and stick ‘post-‘ in front of everything, while jangly indie bands like to deny that they’re jangly indie bands ‘cus obviously their sound is totally unique and stuff. Let’s face it - we’re as bad as each other.
In the case of Flying Lotus, however, it feels like he has earned the right to be slightly beyond genre classification. He has a sound that has progressed constantly across the course of his three albums and multiple shorter releases, while simultaneously developing his own instantly recognisable style. Of course, that’s not to say Ellison’s music is totally unique, there are reference points worth citing. Most obviously there’s the love of jazz bass lines and shifting beats he inherited from J Dilla, while the influence of UK electronic artists like Kode9 has always been present in his work. However, by this stage of his career it’s best to dissect each new Flying Lotus release in terms of how it compares to the rest of his work – and that’s something that’s certainly to his credit.
So, in this sense, how does Pattern + Grid World fit in? Well, if May’s excellent Cosmogramma LP was Ellison’s most jazz-infused, live-instrument-heavy release to date, then Pattern + Grid World is its synth-loving little brother. The ideas at play on this EP are similar to those on Cosmogramma, yet there’s a definite shift away from the harp samples and live vocals of the LP towards more electronic territory. Opener 'Clay' is awash with retro synthesiser sounds and slightly detuned melodies over a classic rattling FlyLo beat. While 'Pieface', on the other hand, is made up of repetitive bleepy build-ups and energetic snare roll samples.
'Kill Your Co-Workers' is probably the biggest departure here, and it’s also the EP’s highlight. Built around a lo-fi drum-machine pattern and a joyful 8-bit Gameboy melody, it has a hell of a lot of hyperactive, playful charm to it. In fact, Pattern + Grid World is generally Flying Lotus at his most fun and playful. Few songs break the three minute mark and the more atmospheric low-end sounds of some of his earlier work often gives way to excitable, bright lead lines. Anyone who’s caught his live sets in the past will know that Steven Ellison is a man who looks like he’s always having a lot of fun when playing music, and it’s very easy to imagine that man – rocking out with a MacBook and an Ableton controller – behind most of the music here.
Overall this EP is no drastic departure from things we’ve heard from Flying Lotus before: 'Time Vampires' and 'Jurassic Notion/M Theory' are both more laid-back cuts that could easily have been taken from an earlier release. However, Pattern + Grid World doesn’t feel like it’s intended to be taken as any kind of grand statement or new direction, but more as a companion to Cosmograma - made up of ideas born from the same mould as that record but that couldn’t quite find a place on the LP. In that sense it’s certainly a great release; it’s consistent and enjoyable, showcasing some nice new ideas while continuing to pull off the same tricks that Flying Lotus has been using to make a name for himself 2010. Mr Steven Ellison, you continue to make very interesting and enjoyable music – we’re very sorry that we called you aquacrunk.
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