We’ve waited five long years for a new material from Flying Lotus. Steven Ellison has kept busy in the time since 2014’s You’re Dead!, largely by making music for films and directing his own movies, but he’s given us precious little in the way of new music.
One listen to his latest: Flamagra and you understand why this thing took so long. This is the sort of album that needs half a decade to reach its final form. A record of huge range, Flamagra finds Flying Lotus applying the directorial scope of his screen output to his music. Even by Ellison’s standards, Flamagra is an ambitious record - and it’s also the sort of thing that only Ellison could pull off.
At its core, Flamagra is still identifiable as a Flying Lotus album. The lopsided, circuit-fried boom-bap that has always been the cornerstone of the FlyLo style is all present and correct here, and Ellison’s love of jazz-fusion comes through again on tracks like ‘Pilgrim Side Eye’ (a cut co-written by Herbie Hancock and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson). That squelchy astral-funk sound we’ve seen Ellison play around within his collaborations with Kendrick Lamar also rears its head a few times, something hinted at by guest spots from Thundercat and George Clinton.
Flamagra’s most impressive and unique moments come when Ellison blindsides you with a sharp left turn. Shabazz Palaces blast us off into the cosmos on ‘Actually Virtual’; centrepiece ‘Fire Is Coming’ finds David Lynch incanting a Twilight Zone-style monologue over frenzied drums and sci-fi pads; Flamagra’s second half is peppered by little chamber-jazz vignettes and beat asides. This spirit of invention makes the LP run as much like an OST to an unseen movie as a concept album.
Flamagra is a sprawling masterpiece from one of contemporary music’s great auteurs.