Flying Lotus Flamagra

[Warp; 2019]

Styles: A double album? In this economy?
Others: Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra, Thundercat

Even when just casually seeking out cultural criticism, you will likely read pieces on what a creation supposedly means for “our current moment.” This approach is oftentimes used as a conduit to lazily discuss hot-button issues — Trump, Brexit, Game of Thrones, you name it. It’s a fixation on the modern landscape that leads to a kind of regression, one that yields to what has been previously stated or taken for granted. In short, honing in on Twitter topics gives your analysis an expiration date, one that hardly warrants coming back to.

This is why Flying Lotus feels so vital (pardon the 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. OK, the world is burning and fascist leaders are at power all over, but there’s more to existence than corporeal matters, y’know?

FlyLo draws on many of the cosmic jazz greats here. Shades of Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders — even George Clinton. His arrangements stay wondrous as usual, carrying a gravitas that hasn’t been present in his recent creative (see: non-musical) work. The man is far more interested in probing deeper truths than merely addressing a topic at a time. His operatic nature suits Flamagra immensely; one could see a theater company performing the album live, complete with flamboyant production and bizarre costumes.

Flamagra is also by far FlyLo’s most guest star-laden album. Ellison loves to curate talents who are just as weird as he. Tierra Whack comes through with predictably wacky lyricism, finding the essence of the song and infusing it wholeheartedly. Denzel Curry brings the opposite: a teeth-gnashing, Illmatic-esque boom-bap tune that reverses the mood and shows how unconcerned Flamagra is with comfort and permanence. On the back half of the album, Solange shows up with a wholly pertinent turn: her song “Land of Honey” draws on When I Get Home, hitting languid grooves and showing how well the two can work in tandem, straining the limits of this jazzy permutation.

If there is one major flaw in Flamagra, it’s that Flying Lotus didn’t think any songs needed to be cut. That’s OK, of course. It’s rare nowadays to see a true double album, an ambitious effort that’s not reliant on singles or gaming streaming platforms in order to boost profits. Maybe it’s just that I’m impatient, but with this record jam-packed with goodies to dig into, we can forgive Ellison for being greedy with his spoils. Why not, right? If the earth is crumbling and we are all passively doomed to a life of servitude by way of late-stage capitalism, Flamagra understands that there needs to be an astronomic aspiration to counteract this disparity. So take it in. Bathe in the lush, singular visions conjured by Flying Lotus. Refresh yourself and begin anew.

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