Review Summary: Flying Lotus places heavily electronic, sample-based music back on its true path – that of the exploration of the interstellar stretches of the human imagination, utterly removed from the human itself.
Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma
, released in March 2010, is the most promising sign for the future of heavily electronic, sample-based music to have appeared in recent years. Drawing on a variety of musical influences, the album achieves an uncanny synthesis of ambient loops, spliced vocals, and techno and hip-hop beats. Most impressively, none of these elements seem to be chosen at random, in an arbitrary or capricious fashion. Rather, each component is selected according to a careful, exceedingly systematic vision of the whole it is to constitute. As a result, none of the sections feel forced or careless. Indeed, the peculiar constellation of elements that appears on Cosmogramma
grooves and flows with extraordinary ease, contributing to an overall effect that recaptures the cosmic hugeness that the best electronic music always sought to express.
’s most characteristic combination can be found in its juxtaposition of overtly ambient or electronic sections with jarring, disjointed hip-hop rhythms. Tracks like “Intro/A Cosmic Drama” and “Zodiac Shi
t,” which appear one after the other, are perfect examples of this pattern. The former sets the stage for the latter, opening up a lush atmosphere with harps and strings and radio drones. Onto this, “Zodiac Shi
t” transposes a spheroid bell, a starry luminescence. Behind its glimmering sway, however, arises the big-drum sound of a ’90s hip-hop backbeat, set in an unusual syncopation. This formula reappears toward the end of “Recoiled,” where delicate strips of synthesizer ambience and the descending glides of a harp are overlaid with a pounding, frenetic drum section. It again shows up on “Drips/Auntie’s Harp,” which might be the example par excellence
of this technique on the record. On this track, the wavering string section of “Intro/A Cosmic Drama” is reprised, this time joined by PacMan-esque electronica and a grooving drumbeat. Somehow, Flying Lotus is able to retain a certain warmth in the programming of his drum sounds. No matter how messy they might sound, they never slip into the abrasive æsthetic of industrial music. This drum quality sets Flying Lotus apart from artists who have pursued similar methods, like the later Aphex Twin, whose drum sound is usually cleaner, sharper.
Although vocals factor into Cosmogramma
, they always feel like more of an afterthought, and never approach anything close to what might be called “singing.” Instead of presenting a continuous, sustained vocal line, the human voice enters in only in fragmentary form – in faded wisps or the disconnected jerkiness of the intercom. Thom Yorke’s vocals “…And The World Laughs With You” are presented in such a manner, broadcast over a faintly pulsed synth progression that’s somewhat reminiscent (on purpose, no doubt) of Radiohead’s “Morning Bell.” In one of the Cosmogramma’s
best tracks, “Table Tennis,” Laura Darlington’s voice is feathered over a seemingly infinite space, with all the affected detachment of an air control operator. Other times, spoken verses undergo gross digital distortion, as in “Satelllliiiiiteee,” the stretched spelling of which mirrors the warped vocals that appear on the track. The one time the vocals aren’t filtered or otherwise mediated is on “Do the Astral Plane,” and even here, the point is hardly the lyrics; instead, it’s one of the most antique forms of glossolalic nonsense, big band scat of the 1930s. Throughout the album, the most human element of all music, the voice, nowhere appears in its most immediate, natural quality. While it is not altered beyond recognition, it is invariably subjected to an extremely refined and deliberate mediation. Neither are the words being spoken important to the album’s overall effect. Far from all this being an indictment, however, it is rather one of the album’s great strengths. The alienation this produces fits perfectly with the record’s vibe.
While Flying Lotus can’t be said to have invented any of these techniques (most of them having been employed in techno for over twenty years now), he implements them to masterful effect, enhancing Cosmogramma
’s hyperfuturistic ambience. The album fearlessly charts the daunting, galactic spaces of the universe – thoroughly set off from the human. As its name suggests, it offers a fractal image of the universe, a cosmogram. This is not entirely new territory for electronic music, but Flying Lotus tests its limits, with dazzling consequences. What makes Cosmogramma
possibly more important is that it marks a return
to the cosmic, ultramodern ambition that belonged to earlier electronic projects. In this respect, it stands as a welcome corrective to the recent passéist
, “down-to-earth” tendencies of records like Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion
places electronic, sample-based music back on its true path – that of the exploration of the interstellar stretches of the human imagination, utterly removed from the human itself