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Published on July 9th, 2019 | by voxx

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Flying Lotus – Flamagra

The Maverick LA producer/composer enlists an all-star cast for his dark and remarkable sixth album…

Disorientation has long been a feature of Flying Lotus’s music; not a bug, but rather the result of his warping through genres like he was travelling via wormhole, tapping deep into the past while charting unexpected futures. Often, the sheer riot of ideas within his albums encouraged the listener to simply surrender and revel in the thrill of the onslaught. Yet there was also a suspicion that ‘more’ somehow amounted to less. Although you could grab hold of flashes of brilliance within these dense exercises, making sense of the larger whole was a fool’s errand.

Lotus’s previous full-length, 2014’s You’re Dead!, felt much longer than its 36-minute duration. Flamagra runs almost twice that length, and is certainly as dense, complex and eclectic as its predecessors. It’s also Lotus’s most compellingly direct album. He spent five years on it, and this slow-burn gestation has given him time to artfully assemble this blizzard of tracks, establishing a newfound coherence.

The instrumentals veer off at inspired, acute angles: the clavinet-led funk of ‘Takashi’, like prime Stevie Wonder over broken beats; ‘Pilgrim Side-Eye’ imagining Herbie Hancock soundtracking an 8-bit videogame; ‘All Spies’ offering swooning, oceanic electronica. Elsewhere, however, the human element – the emotional quotient – is more explicit than before. Lotus pushes his stellar collaborators in unexpected, remarkable directions. George Clinton is employed not in his typical role of lurid party-starter but as paranoid crooner, revealing private shames and fears, growling in agony: “The fire won’t stop burning.” Anderson .Paak, meanwhile, is provoked beyond the easy swagger of his recent work, to somewhere darker and more vulnerable.

‘Darkness’ is the dominant theme on these tracks. Witness the trippy, profane ‘Yellow Belly’, with Tierra Whack rhyming like she crawled from the scuzzy grooves of a Melvin Van Peebles soundtrack. There’s the Afro-American Icarus fable of Denzel Curry’s ‘Black Balloons Reprise’, the gossamer melancholia of Thundercat’s ‘The Climb’, and ‘Land Of Honey’ where, over suffocating, downcast synths, Solange sings of falling from grace. And there’s the unsettling ‘Debbie Is Depressed’, a billowing, Prince-ly vignette, Lotus wailing from inside a sleeping pill fog: “All the days just feel the same.” It’s as if, six albums in, the broken-heart submerged within Lotus’s music is finally reaching the surface.

This mood anchors Flamagra’s excursions, lending the album an emotional heft that Lotus’s previous releases had hinted at, but never realised so completely. The album feels confessional, courageous: that disorienting rush of ideas is still head-spinning but firmly grounded, with sense and substance, and meanings to decipher. Yes, it can be bleak as hell – this is an album that closes with a pitched-down sample of a voice murmuring, “Can’t think of anything to take the pain away” – but Flamagra’s artistic triumphs are sublimely uplifting.

- By Jake White


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