Flying Lotus: Los Angeles

With so much attention being directed towards dubstep (and whatever new mutation it's spawning this week), it's heartening to discover instrumental hip-hop hasn't been abandoned in the process. Certainly its heart will keep beating so long as “next-level” producers such as Flying Lotus keep arriving on the scene with forward-thinking projects like Los Angeles, Steven Ellison's full-length follow-up to 2007's Rest EP. Also known as Juno Leed, the California-based producer and one-time film student approaches the forty-four-minute album as a Bildungsroman-styled narrative, with each of its seventeen tracks bleeding into the next. He brings a J Dilla-like gift for audacious invention to the material, with eroded samples and rough-edged beats woven into woozy, crackle-drenched set-pieces of incredible density and range.

The surge of distorted analog waves (“Brainfeeder”) introduces the album, after which Flying Lotus signatures—heart-stopping bass throb and head-nodding beat flutter—surface in “Breathe.Something/Stellar STar.” Startling juxtapositions sometimes sit side-by-side: warm female vocals ooze through “Camel” while things turn tribal in the percussive throwdown “Melt!” The material often resists the attempt to slot it into any one genre: its pulsating beats awash in congealing washes and smoky haze, “Golden Diva” may be nominally instrumental hip-hop but it also sounds like nothing else previously heard. Funk and Indian musics collide in “GNG BNG” when Ellison slathers a cavernous bass groove with Bhangra fragments and assorted other madness, plus there's even a brief tribute to his great aunt, Alice Coltrane (“Auntie's Harp”). Vocalists join in towards album's end: Dolly on the lush clip-hopper “RobertaFlack,” Gonja Sufi on the noir-inflected “Testament,” and Laura Darlington on the dreamy outro “Auntie's Lock/Infinitum.” Much of Los Angeles sounds as if it flowed, in all its messy glory, from Ellison's overloaded brain directly onto tape. That absence of restraint can have its downside, however, and on future recordings Flying Lotus may want to be careful that inspiration doesn't become self-indulgence. For now, at least, Los Angeles certainly convincingly argues for the arrival of a major talent.

August 2008