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Fuck knows what it sounds like on drugs. Listening to this is like walking into the scene at the end of that Indiana Jones film where all the most esoteric, mysterious artifacts of adventures past are crated and stacked, casual-like. A flurry of twinkling keys just tossed into the atmosphere. A jazzy bassline strokes the neck of an Eastern violin. Fleeting moments that linger like humid air, then ripple over your mind’s G-spot - these moments are currency in Flying Lotus territory, and Steven Ellison is rich, rich, rich.
Which is to say that Until the Quiet Comes is the most furtively thrilling LP I have heard all year. Back in 2008 the LA producer made real ground with second LP, Los Angeles, a set of authentic safari-jams that spoke to a fully-realised fascination with blissy hip-hop, chemical enhancement and all manner of transcontinental curiosities. Where cousin and jazz-mastermind Ravi Coltrane was struggling to blossom in his father’s shadow, you have to accept that the proposition of Flying Lotus, alias Steven Ellison, as a standalone artist was looking pretty swell. Not only was his Brainfeeder collective on its way to becoming a byword for melodic experimentation in the field of ‘glitch-hop’, but the equally esteemed Low End Theory, an LA club night Ellison helped pioneer, had resident DJs tending towards the kind of heady proclamations of musical reverence usually associated with 1978 punks suffering Sex Pistols hangovers.
It followed that third effort Cosmogramma offered an experience that was wilder, funkier and altogether weirder than not only its direct predecessor but perhaps any precedent in the canon of foot-moving music. Indeed, the vastness, versatility and originality of the record didn’t point to instrumental hip-hop as such, and if that’s truly what this thing is then certainly it redraws the boundaries in line with its own fancy of what such a concept represents, much as J Dilla did in recent decades.
So how much can we reasonably expect of the 28-year-old’s fourth? Flying Lotus is Flying Lotus, teasing and challenging, restlessly programming his songs of joy and sublime escapism, so it’s probable that this isn’t all that accessible in a textbook sense. He is, however, a radiant example of an artist with the ability at his fingertips to close the schism between the true avant-garde and the leftfield mainstream, and in this respect Until the Quiet Comes is the record to date we’ll most likely crown his masterpiece.
In interviews Ellison compares the lurching bliss induced by his music to the sensation of flying, but unlike previous efforts, which might have jerked and sputtered as their carriages zipped along, here we have his first album to glide elegantly through the course. We dive first into the ocean of ‘All In’, a luxuriant and entirely welcoming number designed to encourage skeptics to continue further in, a suggestion they would be well advised to follow. ‘Getting There’ strokes the other ear, guest vocalist Niki Randa opening her cushioned lungs over shy, morphing beats, entangled hums and effervescent bleeps, a thing of nocturnal beauty that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Los Angeles.
Songs like the title track and Erykah Badu collab ‘See Thru to U’, meanwhile, rustle and splash with the freeform spontaneity of Sun Ra Arkestra cavorting about the pyramids, but what startles is their emotional precision. He can do joyful, mournful, distracted, beguiling, psychedelic and introverted, occasionally all at once, always relentlessly, senselessly brilliant.
Side two is a left-turn into lysergic soul territory, featuring a brief if resonant Thundercat cameo on ‘DMT Song’, the spectral sighs of Laura Darlington on choral space-odyssey ‘Phantasm’ and, best of all, ‘Only if you Wanna’, a reclining parlour-skit whose sumptuous bassline is couched in gushing synths that conjure thoughts of John Coltrane gawping at heaven’s gates. These are songs you’ll be humming before you’ve digested them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Thom Yorke’s appearance on ‘Electric Candyman’ kind of brings to mind the time Tricky looked confused onstage during Beyonce’s Glasto set, insofar as there’s no pressing need for the old man’s billing but his presence is nonetheless vaguely comforting.
There’s a grandiosity to the closing pair of ‘me Yesterday//Corded’ and ‘Dream to Me’ that harks back to ‘Galaxy in Turiya’ by Ellison’s great aunt Alice Coltrane, a figure we’ll see referenced with decreasing frequency as Ellison himself becomes a reliable corner-piece in the jigsaw of modern music.
It would be unfair to call Flying Lotus an audacious artist - that would suggest an element of risk-taking in his method - but he undoubtedly possesses something rare and rewarding, namely a reassuringly vast ambition tempered with deep humility; an ego aware of its servitude to the abstract totality of it all.
His perspective is a welcome one. While esteemed colonels of the EDM vanguard like Deadmau5 are busy carving the heart from authentic rave culture, FlyLo shamelessly unzips a jazz-spangled universe of throbbing bass, factory-line beats and jerking J Dilla melodies. It’s enormously clever in a way that you can’t help being consumed by, but even if it weren’t such an intellectual thrill Until the Quiet Comes would remain an example of giddy, adventurous spirit that stands its author alongside his Brainfeeder peers and the shining lights of the British underground to truly define where twenty-first-century dance music should be coming from.
Now then, any idea where I can get hold of some DMT?
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