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Flying Lotus

Cosmogramma

Rating: 4.5/5.0

Label: Warp

Flying Lotus? More like Flying Mushroom. If you’re looking to take a trip without the potential undesirable side effects of hallucinogenics, Cosmogramma should be your drug of choice. The opening Nintendo-induced synth blips in “Clock Catcher” immediately rave us into a perpetual 45-minute warp-speed mindfuck above and beyond even the most innovative electronica collages. But then, what else would you expect from the (uncredited) artist who provides his share of Adult Swim’s spaced-out bumper music? Flying Lotus’ Steven Ellison conjures every imaginable sound one could coax out of a synth and a sampler. Moaning aliens? Check. Toy gunshots? Check. Beats symbolizing the Industrial Revolution? Check. And there’s no need to pinch yourself, because you’re indeed hearing a ping pong game in the background of “Table Tennis.”

Which comes to the appropriately mundane term for Cosmogramma: experimental. This album is easily on par with anything out of the avant-garde bin. But Flylo spins enough of a formula to keep the tracks from unraveling into unadulterated chaos. To start with, the beats regiment the rest of the fleeting samples, synth noises and guest appearances. What’s most noble is that we never hear the same beat twice. He draws from too many disparate influences like hip-hop, trance and jazz, and twists them with left-field off-beats. While many of the shorter ditties are innately entropic in structure, there are plenty of actual compositions within the 17 tracks. Cornerstones include “Computer Face/Pure Being”, with its buzzy, vibrating anxiety, and the acid-funk anthem “Do the Astral Plane,” but it would be unjust to cut them out from Cosmogramma’s supreme instrumental saga.

Flylo’s artist collaborations stand their ground as well. In comparison to the grandiose epiphany of the rest of the album, the “weakest” link is Thom Yorke’s contribution on “…And the World Laughs With You.” The track thrives not on Yorke’s falsetto, but on Flylo and Yorke’s conception of the song itself. “MmmHmm,” the album’s most soulful track, features the smooth vox and walking bass licks of Thundercat (Suicidal Tendencies’ Sa-Ra). His imprint in the song offers a tame moment for listeners to levitate in before catapulting us back into Cosmogramma’s hyperactive mad-genius. Thundercat’s instrumental presence on nearly half of the album is a godsend itself. He plucks his virtuosic bass lines with precision and such complement to Flylo’s beats that we can only pray they pair up in the future. Also of note are Rebekah Raff’s heavenly harps and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson’s eerie string ensembles.

As such, it would be a misrepresentation to call this a pure electronica album, but Flylo’s choice of live instrumentation sprinkles an earthly and majestic appreciation for musicianship upon an otherworldly assembly – and he proves that assembly can be an inspirational form of art as well. This particular piece of art lacks a single disappointing or mediocre second, every moment building and thriving upon itself, every nuance to be relished in. Pink Floyd may have invented the space opera, but Cosmogramma, 2010’s first major contender for best electronica album, transcends it to another dimension.

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