"Flamagra" is the latest album by Flying Lotus the noted producer, musician, and filmmaker also known as Stephen Ellison. Only three of the tracks were available to preview before the album’s full release. But I was so enamored with some of the names that were being featured, I went ahead and pre-ordered the entire thing. One of the greatest departures of this album, and the others before it, is that despite a sense of familiarity with the style, if feels as if each track is grown organically. Characteristic mixtures of synth, percussion, and funk style base give the listener a sense that there is order in there somewhere if you just listen long enough. A sort of musical chaos theory given form.
Two of the tracks on the album have accompanying videos, “More” featuring .Paak Anderson and directed by Shinichiro Watanabe of “Cowboy Bebop” fame, another featuring the voice of famed director David Lynch. That Anderson .Paak track, which was released early along with two others, is probably the homerun of the album. There were some disappointing spots in it, but this track redeems much of it. In fact the song and the video made me hope for a .Paak album produced by Flying Lotus.
It always seemed to me that George Clinton would be a natural artistic ancestor in the FlyLo geneology. One of the first things that occurred to me as I was listening to the released tracks, and even some of his older work was “George Clinton and Gap Band had a love child”. But I was underwhelmed by Clinton’s performance on the album. You almost always expect the unexpected with Clinton. The one thing you don’t expect to be unexpected is an underpowered performance. It struck me as a mumble rap performance with the gain turned down.
Shabazz Palace the duo comprised of Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire. In case you don’t recognize Butler’s name, he is one of the founding members of 90s rap sensation “Digable Planets”. Ever since Shabazz Palace’s Tiny Desk performance on NPR, I’d been looking forward to something new from them. When I saw that they were being featured on a track on this album, I couldn’t contain my excitement. Until I heard the actual track. This is not to say that the performance was bad but it seemed to be a missed opportunity. Shabazz Palaces and Flying Lotus didn’t need each other in order to deliver the track that was produced. It was like mixing two ingredients that neither enhanced nor detracted from one another. Given the level of creativity and discipline we’ve come to expect from all artists, that track ultimately fell flat. I was expecting a fission-fusion of creativity, a TNT to geometric atomic warhead explosion of lyrics and beats. What I got was a firecracker suddenly doused in water.
Little Dragon is featured on the track “Spontaneous”. And the vocals leant by Yukimi Nagano was the standout for me. Despite the performance not being transcendent, the dreamlike quality her voice can take on meshed well with the track and thematically, it was a great addition to the album.
Tiara Whack on “Yellow Belly” was cool. But I wasn’t hyped over it like others I know. I will definitely look out for new stuff from her. I have to say the same for Denzel Curry. I felt like he phoned his performance in a bit.
What we’ve come to expect from Flying Lotus is innovation and excellence. And he delivered that, as he always does, on this album. However, this was not the quantum leap in his musical evolution that we were expecting. I was pleased to see that his capacity for assembling incredible yet underutilized talent has only grown as has his own ability to weave narratives with his uniquely innovative style. But I just wasn’t blown away by something that promised to be absolutely wild.
Flying Lotus fans may end up being a bit disappointed with this latest effort. Newcomers to his music may find it satisfying unless they are already familiar with the work of some of the featured artists. Despite my disappointment with a couple of aspects of the album, I would still recommend it. The music is still great and still original and for those looking to expand their music tastes FlyLo is always working with artists new and old. There are subtleties to be gleaned from repeated listening. I could swear I heard a little Herbie Hancock in a couple of the tracks, and as it turned out, he performs on the album. The Bruner Brothers also perform on the album. Even though I was disappointed in Ishmael Butler’s performance, Tendai Maraire’s musicianship on the Shabazz Palaces track was on point. I’ve always used Flying Lotus’ albums to write to. And that will be the case for this one. I still recommend buying the album though not as highly as I would like to.