Steven Ellison is a true jazz pioneer. From the beginning of his musical career he has been both introspective and concerned with the aspects of all life. Moving from exploring themes personal to himself into more universal elements such as dreams and the cosmos itself, the topic of the latest Flying Lotus album is only natural for an artist interested in the intangible.
As ever, FlyLo is playful with his treatment of the album’s theme, evidenced through both the visuals (the album’s exclamation mark and the artworks by Shintaro Kago) as well as the musical collaborations (features from hectic artists such as Thundercat, Kendrick Lamar and Deantoni Parks to name a few). The flow is a particular draw as Ellison incorporates jazz even further into his sound. Tracks, whilst fairly short, are packed with movements that build upon one another until climaxes are reached. When one reaches the Kendrick feature for example, it feels as if a fog has been lifted and acts as somewhat of a centrepiece for the work. The track itself is fantastic, bouncing with boundless enthusiasm and wonder really showcasing each artist’s role. However, the individuality of the tracks is sacrificed in order to create the flow, thus their shortness means that certain moments are not fleshed out wherein there is the potential for great progression.
If it all sounds frantic so far, that’s because it is. The influence of Ellison’s aunt Alice Coltrane and her famed husband John Coltrane is incredibly apparent – the music is free yet precise with explosive build-ups and calming comedowns. Compared to his last effort, You’re Dead! is a much less repetitive affair, and while one may agree that there is still the problem of it becoming background noise, it doesn’t feel quite as bloated and uninspired. The appearance of Herbie Hancock too highlights not only FlyLo’s increased move towards jazz but also his steady progression out of the underground, ultimately resulting in a spot from Snoop Dogg himself.
Overall, Ellison is proving himself yet again to be an innovator in the hip-hop and electronica spheres by means of his musical eccentrism and ambitious themes, crafting his own style far beyond that of his contemporaries into realms yet fully untapped. As with the recently returned Aphex Twin, FlyLo is creating music of the future in a way that is deeply individual whilst exploring themes relevant to all. Why fear death when it sounds this beautiful?