The cover of Flying Lotus’s Los Angeles will remind most viewers of the hybrid car-beetle of Massive Attack’s Mezzanine. Here, though, the final shape and form of the flesh are only suggested; there’s something insectoid in the angles, yet the tissue seems softer and more yielding. Within its icy liquid glow lurks an eroticism where the hot melting plastic are more forebodingly forbidden, like a car crash, or a black leather oil slick on Venice Beach. The image perfectly captures the complicated, compelling and otherworldly sound contained within. Steven Ellison’s second full length, and first for Warp, comes together from all directions at once, a beautiful mess of contradictions, sacred thoughts and visual sounds.
In terms of sound, it's tempting to draw comparison to labelmate Prefuse 73. But while there are many similarities—including the short track lengths, the jaw-dropping stylistic switches, the seamless sequencing, and the dense mash-ups of mangled beats—Flying Lotus comes across as more laidback and soulful than Scott Herren's project. Los Angeles is often placating and certainly less cluttered, an album that heads confidently for the spiritual underworld of the soul and the city.
Los Angeles, as you might expect, is a main theme that runs through the album, something that's immediately brought home by Ellison's inclusion of fellow LA musicians like Laura Darlington (who contributes to 'Auntie’s Lock/Infinitum,' a beautifully pastoral epilogue to the album located somewhere between the analogue pop of Stereolab and the folkier side of Various Productions) and Gonja Sufi (who gives 'Testament' a jazzy and smooth reading, with a sweet Portishead tinge). More evocative is the lighter polyrhythmic chill out of “Melt!” which is pure Californian sun filling the convertible in stark contrast to the dense and paranoid bass and beats of “Riot” which evoke the darker side of the city and the worst of its history.
The album further extends this sense of itself as a chronicle of past and present, through its frequent use of antique textures and atmospheres, beginning with the opener 'Brainfeeder'', whose resonant, scratchy drones create a feeling of a grandiose future viewed from the past. The short 'Orbit 405' sounds like a flare burning through the scratch and hiss of old vinyl while 'Breathe' has all the watery naivety of 1950s Hollywood warped through a modern day hip-hop kaleidoscope. Ellison also pays tribute to his own family history and the memory of Alice Coltrane, his recently departed great-aunt, on the aforementioned 'Auntie’s Lock/Infinitum' and 'Auntie's Harp´ which samples her harp playing.
Similarly, the sense of physical displacement in the opening track, (it sounds as though you're listening to it play from another room or over the echoes of time). In almost every moment on Los Angeles, there's a strong synesthetic current that lures the music from a safe, identifiable hip-hop form into a new exotic hybrid. 'Golden Diva' seems to want to be techno, hip-hop and the memory of a child’s music box all at once. 'GNG BNG,' 'Beginners Falafel,' and 'Camel,' meanwhile, are equal parts Middle Eastern mirage and ancient LA mysticism.
Despite its stylistic jumps, Los Angeles is an album best listened to as a whole, rather than a set of isolated tracks. It's the soundtrack to a greater picture without the faintest inkling of cliché or resorting to condescension. Los Angeles is highly accessible, but wonderfully complicated and with its myriad of angles, atmospheres and faces, it is at once profound and enduring.
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Tracklist: Flying Lotus - Los Angeles01. Brainfeeder
02. Breathe Something/Stellar Star
03. Beginners Falafel
06. Comet Course
07. Orbit 405
08. Golden Diva
10. GNG BNG
11. Parisian Goldfish
12. Sleepy Dinosaur
15. Auntie's Harp
17. Auntie's Lock/Infinitum
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