Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma

I’ve been struggling to write this article; weeks upon weeks, I’ve delicately studied every angle of this album, and yet I find nothing to say. Count this in the same group that great albums like Teen Dream or Have One On Me function on, in that they are albums that we can’t find the words to describe, so we arbitrarily apply adjectives to them like “great” or “terrific”. Well, Cosmogramma, the latest album from Flying Lotus, aka Steven Ellison, is an album that needs to be talked about: not only is it an important album, probably the first quintessential electronic release of the new decade, but it’s also an utter masterpiece.

Cosmogramma is a one-of-a-kind album in that it doesn’t defy genre so much as it transcends it. Ellison himself once remarked he was approaching a place where he could make the kinds of albums he dreamed about making as a child. This shines through on Cosmogramma, which is filled to the brim with different styles, genres, sounds, and functions. The first three to four songs, most obviously “Clock Catcher” feature very obtuse videogame sounds. “Pickled” plays with the sound of a locomotive and a driving, twisting bassline, all while screeching a “Ventolin” shriek. These are the sounds of a schizoid embolism in electronic music form.

However, as the album goes on, movements become more and more obvious; if the first three are an eclectic and anachronistic mix based on game sounds, the meaty mid-section is where things get transcendental: it’s no coincidence that the fourth track is called “Intro//A Cosmic Drama”. He slowly sets the scene with harp melodies and a string section to lure you into his “Cosmic Drama”. “Computer Face//Pure Being” is a funky, bumping mix of drums and bass, leading into the main mid-section piece “…And the World Laughs with You”. The track, after bouncing and bounding for 2 minutes, leads into a breakdown of disquieting cymbal samples and repeating synths. Thom Yorke’s voice is cut, split, and strangles into place, serving simply as another tool that Ellison can shape.

The homestretch features just as many highlights, with the combo of “Do the Astral Plane” and “Satelllliiiiiteee” being the best the 3rd quarter has to offer. With it’s scat singing and it’s beat-centric handclap and deep, fuzzy bass melody, “Do the Astral Plane” is a groove-oriented song that grows and evolves over it’s four-minute runtime. “Satelllliiiiiteee” is reminiscent of a Burial tune, it’s disoriented vocal samples twisted and corrupted into shape along with washed-out bass. However, like many great albums, Cosmogramma saves it’s most beautiful moment for the end, with “Galaxy in Janaki” being a gorgeous amalgamation of everything Cosmogramma has to offer in two minutes, with it’s hand-clap beat, orchestration accompaniment, and spastic bass.

I could go on for days about this album, but the bottom line is that it is great in almost every way. It’s slightly defeating being a critic with nothing to criticize, but Cosmogramma has an inescapable aura of quality from every angle you approach it. It incorporates new and old electronic trends like IDM, Acid, Trip-hop, Dubstep, Drum and bass, and hip-hop, yet it sounds so concentrated and combed-over. Ellison’s work reeks of a perfectionist, like other OCD electronic artists before him, but it’s rare you find an album so dangerously out-there pulled off with such finesse. I haven’t even touched on the obvious jazz influences, from “Arkestry” and it’s saxophone and drum breakdown sounding like it’s straight off of an Art Blackey album to “Drip/Auntie’s Harp” and it’s beautiful use of the delicate string instrument, bringing out his own familial influence (he’s a member of the Coltrane family).

I’m not sure how many other ways to slice it, but Cosmogramma is a triumph; a bold, multi-lateral work of complexity and beauty that feels emotionally-engaging, a rare quality in an electronic album. It will soon join the ranks of albums like Since I Left You as an electronic albums that can pull at your human-side, but it also has the beat chops to keep casual electronic fans coming back. Universal and comfortably articulated, Cosmogramma is hard to fault from any angle.

by Trevor “doing the Astral Plane” Johnson

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1 Comment

  1. 10/11/10: New Review! « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma by Trevor Johnson Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)New Stuff: 6/18/10 – ’bout fuckin’ timeAnother New Review! Yay!New (Late) Review & Site UpdateWATCH :: Flying Lotus – “MmmHmm” [taken from Cosmogramma] […]

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