Release Date: May 24, 2019
Record label: Warp
Genre(s): Electronic, Experimental Electronic, Left-Field Rap
The uniquely talented producer takes listeners on an exhilarating journey that unites both calm and chaos One of the most inventive forces in modern music, Steven 'Flying Lotus' Ellison's last album 'You're Dead!' fused hip-hop, jazz and electronica to boldly explore the idea that there's a strange beauty in death. Yet as interesting as that record was, it felt a little too sporadic -- a collection of fascinating sounds that didn't necessarily add up to a satisfying whole. But that was five years ago, and new album ‘Flamagra’, a spaced-out funk epic that's much more soothing than its predecessor, proves Ellison has grown as a producer.
Jump into the fire. Ever the trailblazer, Steven Ellison is back at it once again with an album that is sure to be revered in the future amongst his finest works. Flamagra is Ellison's equivalent to a warm embrace, welcoming you into a world far different than any you've seen before, but not without its own intriguing twists and turns. It's an uncompromising adventure that Ellison sets you out on, guiding you through many different worlds, sounds and concepts; although this all is united together under a singular concept of death, fire, and rebirth.
Flying Lotus is now effectively his own genre. Since his debut full-length, 2006's 1983, the artist, born Steve Ellison, has mined the middle ground between cosmic African-American music and the technical trickery of Warp forebears like Squarepusher, tipping his hat to video games and anime along the way. As well as being critical catnip, Ellison's music is surprisingly palatable to mainstream audiences.
This is why Flying Lotus feels so vital (pardon the Mic.com speak). He seems to have no interest in what anyone else is doing. And like so many visionaries before him, Steven Ellison takes cues from the cosmic consortium, basking in the glow of spaces undefined, places unreachable. His jazz née hip-hop swirly disregards the takeology complex, concerned instead with the grander landscape at hand.
The Lowdown: The concept of fire burns at the core of Flying Lotus' new record, Flamagra. With inspiration from filmmaker David Lynch, Flying Lotus begins with the image of an “eternal flame sitting on the hill” and sets forth to create one of the most stunning records of the producer’s career. Flamagra is a work that explores FlyLo’s many sounds and styles; from hip-hop and IDM to soul and dance, the record is a remarkable experience brimming with emotion and technical joy.
You're Dead! was such a momentous piece of work, and such an inflection point in Flying Lotus' career, that his earlier albums can now sound conventional by comparison. They were original and daring, but remained planted in soil tilled by pioneers like Dilla and Madlib. You're Dead! offered a different vision: ecstatic, shapeshifting, deeply collaborative, and with a remarkable ability to mask its making.
As the 2010s draws to a close, there perhaps hasn't been a more prominent influence on electronic music as Steven Ellison (aka Flying Lotus). His Brainfeeder label has amassed an incredible wealth of talent producing jazz-influenced, forward-thinking electronic music which has come to define the decade. One only has to look at his longtime collaborator Stephen Bruner's (Thundercat) success as further evidence of their success, along with their work with decade-defining rapper Kendrick Lamar.
It's been five years since Flying Lotus last released an album, but it takes less than ten seconds to know you're back in his headspace on sixth album Flamagra. No two of Stephen Ellison's albums sound the same, but there's a certain way that he hybridises jazz, funk, beats and a plethora of other styles that results in a tapestry that is unmistakably his own. This is both a boon and a drawback when coming to appraise Flamagra as an entirety.
It's odd to think that Flying Lotus started his musical career in the mid-2000s as a fairly standard beatmaker, straddling the divide between rap and electronica like so many in the post-Prefuse 73 world. Because in the 13 years since he has moved far beyond that scene, becoming more ambitious sonically, structurally and conceptually than any of his then-peers, and he's outdone himself again with this significantly longer release. FlyLo is on a winning streak, having produced two of the decade's best electronic albums, but is 66 minutes stretching the material a bit thin? Well, yes and no.
Innumerable artists cite David Lynch as an inspiration, but Steven Ellison is the only one to have had a serendipitous encounter with the filmmaker that affirmed an album's theme and led to a collaboration on its central track. At a party some point after the release of 2014's You're Dead, Ellison, who had been considering the thematic potential of fire, heard Lynch spin a characteristically outré tale about an inferno threatening to engulf a neighborhood. This developed into "Fire Is Coming," a kind of radio drama vignette placed in the middle of Flamagra, the sixth Flying Lotus album.
In 2014, the mainstream landslide towards rap was just a few falling rocks, and the bushy-tailed youth that would reignite jazz were in the wings, waiting to star in their perhaps unlikely coup. As we've seen with other similar torchbearers, it's entirely for possible the movements you helped build to subsume you - to emerge years later and find that the kids have figured it all out. But - nope. Not Steve Ellison.
Photo by Renata Raksha In the decade-plus since Flying Lotus' breakthrough 2008 album, Los Angeles, it's been a true pleasure to watch the artist otherwise known as Steven Ellison evolve from a darling of the L.A. underground beat scene to a globe-trotting, Grammy-nominated super-producer. Best of all, perhaps, is the fact that success hasn't dulled Ellison's casual brilliance and restless, questing weirdness.
How has it been five years since the last Flying Lotus release? In no way does it feel like half a decade since 'You're Dead', that epic post-mortuary odyssey that saw the artist born Stephen Ellison somehow finding joy in death (hard) and improvisatory jazz (even harder). This is partly because he never stopped creating, switching lanes to try his hand at film (if you haven't yet seen his bizarre horror anthology 'Kuso', it's best viewed with an empty stomach), but largely because his previously niche preoccupations - experimental jazz, Afrofuturism and black psychedelia - have now infiltrated the mainstream. Having set the musical co-ordinates for a generation of game-changing artists - including BADBADNOTGOOD, Kendrick Lamar and long-time collaborator Thundercat - FlyLo became midwife to a cultural movement that outgrew him somewhere in the middle of the decade.
A lways known for Technicolor hip-hop odysseys, Flying Lotus has now gone fully cinematic. Following his directorial debut with the gross-out flick Kuso, Steven Ellison's sixth album includes a short story from David Lynch and cartoonish rap miniatures such as Yellow Belly, a collaboration with R&B innovator Tierra Whack. Even on the instrumentals, Flamagra conjures visual extremities.