ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Flamagra’ is a Fascinating Next Step for Flying Lotus

Steven Ellison picks up where he left off on 2014’s ‘You’re Dead!’

FlyLo hit my radar in 2008 with his second album, Los Angeles, a groundbreaking project that pushed hip-hop and electronic production into entirely new, futuristic dimensions. On 2010’s Cosmogramma and 2012’s Until the Quiet Comes he pushed this formula forward by slowing siphoning more live instrumentation into the mix, while introducing us to bassist extraordinaire Thundercat.

Then came 2014. FlyLo’s work was already progressive, but his last album, You’re Dead!, made it sound tame by comparison. Those frantic guitars, freely flowing drum patterns and racing bass lines… how did he even make this music? His earlier music had been grounded in some distinguishable tradition, but this was out of the stratosphere. Was it electronic? Was it jazz? Did it matter?

Flamagra is a fascinating next step for Flying Lotus. Like You’re Dead!, the sound is a blend of electronic production and live instrumentation. The band consists of heavyweights like Herbie Hancock, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Thundercat and Robert Glasper, to name just a few. The list of featured vocalists is staggeringly cool: George Clinton, David Lynch, Denzel Curry, Anderson .Paak, Solange, Tierra Whack, Toro Y Moi, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Little Dragon and Shabazz Palaces all make appearances.

Although it’s just as experimental as its predecessor, Flamagra is less dissonant and more accessible for the average listener. Whether it’s the funky slap of “Burning Down the House,” the head-nodding hip-hop of “Black Balloons Reprise” or the offbeat bounce of “Yellow Belly,” there are many different avenues into this project.

The 27-song track list looks bloated at first, but it flows nicely and stays cohesive. Loosely centered on David Lynch’s haunting spoken word piece, “Fire is Coming”—a narrative I would have liked to see continued on other tracks—Flamagra doesn’t seem to focus on any particular theme other than the dreamscape of the music itself. Apparently that menacing fire on the hill is just the intense energy of these amazing musicians Ellison has assembled, and that’s more than enough.

Score: 🔥🔥🔥🔥/5

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