Smile Politely

Album Review: Flying Lotus, Los Angeles

Flying Lotus ’ new album Los Angeles is quite similar to a piece of visual art in that the more time spent with it, the more you get out of it. While Los Angeles grabbed me immediately, I keep getting more out of it with repeated listens. Flying Lotus (aka Steven Ellison) successfully blends hip hop and electronic sensibilities to create heavily layered and textured songs without creating a sonic mess. This is Ellison’s second full-length, and his first for Warp Records.

The first cut, titled “Brainfeeder,” sounds like paranoid incidental music from the film Bladerunner. The pulsing tones and warped keyboards of the opening track gives way to the oddly timed yet rhythmically infectious “Breathe.Something/Stellar Star”. From here, each track follows the next without any pause between cuts. Tempo changes immediately identify that a new song has begun. A distinctly timed beat with a subtle layer of percussion defines each song. For example, on jam #5, “Melt”, the percussive elements come from drum machine, conga, tablas, and several other hard to pin down sounds. I’d look to J. Dilla’s beats as a reference point. Ellison keeps his songs short and wraps up the album after 43 minutes which is just the right amount of time deliver the goods without losing the uniqueness of each song due to oversaturation.

Ellison accompanies his beats with dreamy keyboards, buried hiss, clicks, crackles and soundscapes. These production values bring to mind DJ Spooky’s Songs for a Dead Dreamer as well as Warp label mates Boards of Canada and Prefuse 73. While mainly instrumental, Ellison utilizes vocals on a few tracks. “Comet Course” features a Detroit House style spoken loop of someone, whom I’m 95% sure is Sun Ra, stating “We live in peace, love and connection with all the people.” Singer Dolly delivers Portishead-like vocals to “Roberta Flack.”

Ellison simply writes in the liner notes “For Auntie” dedicating Los Angeles to his aunt – the late, great and masterful Alice Coltrane. Though Alice Coltrane made music in the jazz realm, her ability to create lush, layered and textural songs definitely influenced her nephew Steven Ellison. As another tribute, Ellison samples his aunt’s harp playing on “Auntie’s Harp.”

Los Angeles is an excellent headphone record. I’m not sure these 17 cuts are club bangers, but my head nods undeniably each listen. Flying Lotus leaves me excited to hear what’s coming next from him. The good news is, I’ve got a lot to work with yet on this album.

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