Immerse yourself in the new world contained within Flamagra, the latest album from highly acclaimed Californian producer Flying Lotus, released 5 years after You're Dead!
Some artists shape their music according to the presupposed needs of their listeners. Others create a world that attracts an audience by the strength of its uniqueness. By releasing the first single of his new album in collaboration with David Lynch, Flying Lotus wanted to simultaneously surprise and arouse curiosity; it achieved the desired effect. Over the years this has become an identifiable hallmark of his creative journey, making each one of his new releases an event in and of itself.
Flamagra has been no exception. The commentary surrounding it has been crowded, with each new media platform adding lines to a literature that contributes to the mythology around the character and his work. In this “creative industry” Flying Lotus is a strange being – he is a rare example of someone who gives meaning to the oxymoron contained within the phrase: business and art in a single gesture.
A sidekick on one track, David Lynch enjoys the same UFO status in popular culture: their respective universes function in a vacuum, within the contours of an absolute. Their movements express a centrifugal singularity which their collaborators become part of. In Flamagra, it is only David Lynch who is able to fully impose his signature on a piece, and only for half a song in which the director offers a disturbing tale like only he can. A boy asks him mother to come into the house to answer the phone; he sees a man running, followed by a burning sky, screaming “Fire is coming! Fire is coming!” Pure Lynch. This theme of fire lay dormant in Flying Lotus before it was awakened, revived surreptitiously by David Lynch’s tones as he told the story at the launch party of his festival. Compelled to evolve on his own terms, the director naturally impose his own trademark: a certain unnerving strangeness. Other prestigious guests were then brought in to help sustain this momentum on Flamagra.
A high-flying cast
“I’d always had this thematic idea in mind – a lingering concept about fire, an eternal flame sitting on a hill. Some people love it, some people hate it. Some people would go on dates there and some people would burn love letters in the fire.” In exploring the different perceptions of fire, Flying Lotus multiplies and layers the atmosphere throughout this consistent 27-track album. Overall, it is groovier and funkier than his previous offerings, and it includes guests such as Anderson .Paak, who delivers a flow that sings and shines more than ever (“More”). He, along with Thundercat on “The Climb” are certainly the two most recognisable names in this stream of collaborations. In fact, Flying Lotus has written music that resembles them. But the links are stronger than ever here between the producer and the bassist – who wields the most-used instrument on the album – the two having never been missing from each other’s projects since they met in the late 2000s. Flying Lotus produces for Thundercat on his Brainfeeder label, and Thundercat has always pushed the producer to surpass himself. Both from Generation Y, their universes are dotted with many common reference points: video games (Flylo FM radio, in GTA V), Japanese anime, clothing tastes (love of sneakers), the bizarre, and even some collaborations, including those with Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg on You’re Dead. Each Flying Lotus album brings its share of new adventures.
With Flamagra, the producer extends his list of prestigious guests in accordance with promoting the breadth of his musical spectrum: rickety beats verge towards imbalance with dissonant harmonies on “Yellow Bellies,” acting as a vehicle for the bizarre alongside Tierra Whack; Denzel Curry raps angrily on “Black Balloons Reprise,” taking us back to a golden age of rap in the late 90s; the r&b and jazz piano chords of “Land of Honey” with Solange are re-imagined by Flying Lotus distortions; the pop sensibilities that emanate from “Spontaneous” with Little Dragon.
Each of them reflect a different point in a moving universe, always in the image of its demiurge, Flying Lotus. Across the seventeen instrumental pieces, Flying Lotus is faithful to his signature feel, which helped focused the world’s attention on the Los Angeles electronic scene. That is to say: a lot of information, a close attention to detail given to the textures of the sound, to pieces with countless layers and effects, to polyrhythm, to deep, dense beats, to the qualities of the masters … Flamagra, for its part, perhaps brings more of a lightness to the surface, a melodic fluidity, a wave with a brightly coloured soul. Whether he decides to make a hard bop album, as was the case for You’re Dead, or whether he takes inspiration from the 70s and the sound of Rhodes – which he loves – Flying Lotus always ends up doing Flying Lotus. His is a force that transcends periods, genres, influences and expectations. Always more. That explains why so much attention is turned his way.
Spotify announced the release of his single “Spontaneous” on a giant screen in Time Square. Flying Lotus has indeed become an object of pop culture, without his music needing to follow the pathways of mass sound.
The length and content of Flamagra itself have not completely abandoned the characteristic density of its work. The more dissonant experimental parentheses of Cosmogramma or Until the Quiet Comes are no longer there. But whoever discovers Flying Lotus through Flamagra will not be not spared the sometimes disarming challenge of the first listening. Even for regular customers, he is an artist that remains out of reach, embedded in the mission he has set for himself: “to bring the bizarre to the masses.”
The metaphysical themes explored in his albums are polarized by two extremes: while universal, they remain abstruse. Indeed, who other than a priest would claim to explain life after death. Flying Lotus has engaged in this discourse since Cosmogramma where he was already talking about the disappearance of relatives (his parents, the pianist Austin Peralta … ), a theme he ultimately explored in You’re Dead. “All my albums explore the same theme: the questions that occupy my mind about what comes next, what’s in the afterlife. I try to think of stories that aren’t rooted in the world in which we live, that would come from a futuristic point of view where we wonder ‘what else is there? What will happen next? What does death look like?'” Here, Flying Lotus gives his considerations a strange metaphysical echo, formalized by a form, by the science of storytelling.
The subject of Flamagra is perhaps not so much fire as what it symbolizes. Is it a vehicle to another dimension a la Lynch? As it turns out there is a biographical explanation for Flying Lotus’ mystical inclinations: his great-aunt was none other than Alice Coltrane, pianist and vibraphonist who, in addition to exploring the depths of a free jazz that often faced Eastwards, used to be part of an ashram initiative in Los Angeles. Many African-American jazzmen situate their beginnings on the benches of churches animated by gospel songs. With Flying Lotus we know that he was more likely to attend Hindu ceremonies accompanied by the devotional music of his great aunt, often cited as a role model. From this dual mystical and musical ancestry come perhaps the roots of an artist who embraces the idea of knowledge in experimental forms, open to the possibility of an ‘elsewhere.’ Is he fascinated by what we are unable to see?
Looking beyond, the Californian producer is always one step ahead. Flamagra is a new journey, and here’s how he introduces it: “We are now joined together again/In the space that you’ve created/The world has changed/And so have you/You’re different now/You’re different now/The time of heroes has come again.”
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Flying Lotus, Flamagra (Warp)