Steven Ellison has reached a quiet place. Little can touch him right now. One overexcited Mary Anne Hobbes has even knighted him the ‘Jimi Hendrix of our generation’. Let it be said, Flying Lotus is atop the crest of a very important wave in alternative music. Once but a lowly intern at Stone’s Throw Records, Ellison is now widely considered a standard-bearer for forward-thinking electronic music in the 21st century. For years a cultish buzz has clamoured around the Los Angeles’ underground beat-club, Low End Theory, the modern beathead’s Mecca and spiritual HQ for Ellison’s label Brainfeeder. Two years ago, however, the hype reached fever pitch: in 2010, Flying Lotus graced the listening world with a gilded landmark in his metaphysical gemstone, Cosmogramma, a galactic odyssey through space-jazz, hip-hop and the universe. The humble beat giant has since returned to terra firma. Following a summer in waiting, Flying Lotus appears again from between the Mount Washington hills bearing trunks of wonder for us mortals earthly. Bow thy head, open your earholes.
Where Cosmogramma was far-reaching and ambitiously dense – in places difficult –UTQC turns inward, its effect meditative. From its outset, the journey is a wide-eyed dreamwalk through mystic lullabies, plaintive nocturnes and rising strings, a blunted reimagining of all the escapism and innocence of the Never Never Land. In an interview with The Wire, FlyLo actually refers to the album as ‘a children’s record, a record for kids to dream to’. Born of an infusion of warped loops, old film snippets and live instrumentation, the record swoons in the richness of its own lifeblood. Familiar and foreign voices climb through the mix: Erykah Badu arrives at the album’s middle, and later a ghoulishly repitched Thom Yorke croons in the mist of Electric Candyman. After the astronomical vision of his last album, Ellison would have been misguided to stretch any further in the same direction; the product would have wound up overly wrought. Instead, these here pastures have been found by plumbing inward. Every track offering is an open-hand into a wombing enclave, each interconnected by inviting portals in an unfurling narrative. What we receive is something deeply personal, an emotional dignity that is imaginably rooted in the recent passing of his mother and, indeed, his illustrious great-aunt, Alice Coltrane. Ultimately, it’s a record best received in one sitting, but the songs have legs enough to stand for themselves. Indeed, the more accessible Putty Boy Strut and Sultan’s Request have been mainstays in FlyLo’s live sets over the course of the summer.
If Cosmogramma was his coronation, Ellison has just added another cluster of jewels to his crown. After plating his armoury with further gold, only one question remains: where next shall the Lotus fly? In interviews Ellison has conceded to be sitting on a treasury of .zip files for potential future release. More often than not these collections are either dirty-south bangers ready for the floor or rap beats he’s knocked out for fun in between projects. During the summer he has also played a productive hand in the work of rapper Captain Murphy, a nebulous shadow-figure whose identity remains obscured behind a web of PR (‘I don’t want to know who I really am either’, reads his Twitter). Rumours suggest the Captain Murphy persona is a three-headed rap-colossus cut of the collected lyrical power of Odd Future’s Tyler the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt and Flying Lotus himself… The blogosphere salivates.