It’s neither exaggeration nor sycophancy to say that Flying Lotus, known to family and friends as Steven Ellison, is the most exciting musician working in Los Angeles today. As the spearhead of a vibrant electronica scene that sprawls to include the likes of Gaslamp Killer, Nosaj Thing, the Brainfeeder label (which Ellison runs himself), and the Low End Theory night every Wednesday downtown (at which he has made semi-regular appearances), it was evident to me even while living in England that this was an artist worth following. From the hip-hop-leaning West Coast pleasures of 2008’s Los Angeles, his first great album, through the extraordinary space-bound sprawl of 2010’s Cosmogramma, Flying Lotus has cemented himself as one of the most forward-thinking musicians out there.
Yes, there is the much-discussed family legacy and his unlikely friendship with Thom Yorke (who makes another appearance here on the downbeat and jazzy “Electric Candyman”), but the foremost evidence of Flying Lotus’s burgeoning greatness is the music, which speaks for itself. Until The Quiet Comes sees him going three for three. It is another example of Ellison’s unapologetic dedication to the album as an art form. Indeed, reviewing selected tracks and listening to this album’s highlights is an exercise in self-defeat.
As on Flying Lotus’ previous two albums, the pleasure is in the whole, the ebbing and flowing of the work, which can lull you in and then knock you off your feet when you’re least expecting it. Until The Quiet Comes is an album of movements, with an unfashionable but completely admirable belief in patience as a virtue. Not an element feels unfocused or anything less than meticulously thought out. This new album also shows off a newfound restraint, balanced with a restlessly experimental spirit that comes together as a high-wire act.
For all that though, this never feels like hard work. The opening passage draws you in with “Getting There” showing off the closest you might come to a trademark Flylo beat, shuffling layers and cymbals over a thick bass drum, all operating under the gorgeous guest vocals of Niki Randa. It’s both perfect headphone music for the solitary experience and inclusive as a naturally danceable song. “Heave(n)” displays echoes of fellow Warp Records act Boards Of Canada in somehow managing to be complex and compulsively listenable at the same time. The highlight of this first section of the album is “Tiny Tortures,” which is almost an x-ray of Flying Lotus elements. It’s little more than a quiet bass and melody, with all manner of hisses, pops, woodblock clicks, and crackles over the top. Ellison does truly jaw-dropping things with beats, outstripping anything his peers can manage.
Then, all of a sudden, when it feels like Until The Quiet Comes is disappearing into itself, Flying Lotus drops the enormous distorted bass of “Sultan’s Request,” with its sensational mid-song beat switch for a filthy deep interlude, and the lead single “Putty Boy Strut,” at the opposite end of the scale with its cut-up chipmunk vocal samples and dance-along handclaps. Like his previous two albums, it’s around a third in that Ellison starts to really flex his muscles. The advantage of not front-loading the album becomes evident in “See Thru To U,” which completes a stunning mid-album trio. Guest vocalist Erykah Badu drops a seductive melody over the top of incessant hi-hat rattles and tribal live-sounding drums.
Older elements come into the mix here with a certain inevitability. The family jazz influence is undeniable, and there is indeed a strong argument to be made for Flying Lotus as a modern jazz musician utilizing different tools. This is clear in the walkabout bass lines, the shape-shifting rhythms, and the playful attitude when it comes to form. However, there is also a sense of something deeper at play here, a melancholy that infuses Until The Quiet Comes on various occasions. “Hunger” in particular sounds dissonant and disparate, and then drops a gorgeous arpeggio guitar climax that feels filled with a sense of longing or something slightly beyond reach. The wobbling synths of “Only If You Wanna” equally create a sense of unease.
Until The Quiet Comes’ climax only extends this point. Laura Darlington turns up with that spooky and lush voice in “Phantasm,” before “Me Yesterday//Corded” pulls out all the stops. It is the album’s longest track and a summary of its vibe — at times indefinably murky, with an obvious tension and release at play, and then a burst of daylight coiled around two contrasting looped beats.
It is a fitting end to an album that, to my mind, establishes Flying Lotus as more than just a great musician — he’s a genuinely important one. Until The Quiet Comes is both the antithesis of Cosmogramma’s mind-bending kitchen sink approach and the natural progression from it. The willful experimentation should not change the fact that this is seriously addictive music, an album that reveals new shades on every listen. Time may reveal it to be his best work to date, but like the previous two works, I’ll get back to you on that when I’ve lived in it for a couple of years. This is music built to endure.
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