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From its launch, ‘Cosmogramma’ outlines its voyage between tripped out stomping noise, Techno Jazz and lush 60s Disney-style orchestration. The explosive opener is classic FLYING LOTUS. The frenetic beat and hi-hat over a Pacman stomp fades into a beautifully orchestrated harp nestled around fret buzz. As you’d expect, throughout the whole album, FlyLo is predictably unpredictable. A genre-hopping cosmonaut unafraid to bend the modernist Jazz traditions his music is so firmly rooted in (he is the second generation nephew of Alice Coltrane, after all).
Nose Art is the first highlight, with a Prefuse 73-esque rhythm premise knitted over Electro-Dub bassbeats. It’s the first one you can really nod along to before disappearing into a zither yawn as A Cosmic Drama opens up into something like the soundtrack from a version of Peter Pan, glistening and new.
The big tune of the album for a lot of people is clearly going to be “…and the world laughs with you” which features Thom Yorke characteristically mumbling like some sort of seductive lunatic. It’s a very strong track, which like a lot of the tracks on ‘Cosmogramma’ seems to be two tracks junk-cut together as an impromptu medley. The first half is maximalist Electro-Hop that segues into a glitchy Minimal piece with a killer second bit that in a normal song would be the chorus but here it’s developed into an electronic event horizon.
The medley technique is one that works at times and at other times seems rushed perhaps suggesting a fear of the longer song. This often creates a schizophrenic atmosphere that is hard to focus on (of the 17 tracks, seven of them are under two minutes long and all feature at least three distinctive musical styles). One benefit is that it does reward intense listening. After all, FlyLo has had a great deal of practice making very short interstitial music for Adult Swim and also exhibited on ‘Los Angeles’ and ‘1983’. A tendency perhaps reflective of FlyLo’s jazz heritage; the album sharing elements of fusion-medley format coursed throughout Progressive Jazz and its history.
Mmmhmmm is a gorgeous but brief track which I could have seen developed into something longer and it cuts into Do the Astral Plane, which seems very conventional at first but ends up just as hectic as the rest of the album. It’s about five minutes long giving you time to get into it and nearly remember what boredom is, as it grows and develops to its full potential. German Haircut is a lovely warm string/beats workout reminiscent of Bonobo that levitates down a river of funk.
The album charts a whole of spectrum of experimental electronic music mixing Jazz and Electronica, crossing the schizophrenic half-hop beats of Prefuse 73, Quantic’s pseudo-prog-jazz and Bonobo’s more relaxed, perhaps even radio-friendly oeuvre. The folks at Ninja Tune have been putting out Electro-Jazz for a couple of decades now, with a varying amount of success. It has always been a very tricky balance to draw. The two forms of music span an enormous range of textures and with so many kleptomaniacs inhabiting a scene that spans from DJ Shadow to Gold Panda, finding something that works well and original is clearly getting harder. The examples of how wrong it could go were obvious from the very start. Even Herbie Hancock’s synth records seem unbelievably dated now. That said, a lot of the music these guys put out is genuinely inspiring – Gold Panda has got a lot more interesting as he becomes more clearly influenced by the Ghostly camp and Booka Shade glamour. Bonobo keeps putting out incredibly polished, less interesting work. FlyLo is probably the most original artist on the whole scene and this does show through on ‘Cosmogramma’. Recoiled is really inspired work, segueing from Bitches Brew Jazz-fusion madness into a dubby click and rave-whoop mashup.
While ‘Cosmogramma’ charts fairly familiar territory as ‘Los angeles’ and ‘1983’, the brevity of the tracks can be stifling at times. Tunes are repeatedly not allowed to develop and gain the funky weight that earlier pieces like GNG BNG had. While the medley-like quality existed there, much of the music stops itself before it reaches its emotional height. This is a strong album technically but something doesn’t quite stick together enough… ‘Los Angeles’ was bang on but here his AD/HD approach towards the tracks is a tad unconvincing. Mmmmhmm has a wonderful texture but never develops. There is a famous Jazz musician playing something that is effectively looped. It’s nice but not that interesting.
Perhaps it’s a little too easy to criticize FlyLo in this way. He has said that the albums are designed to provoke thought and are made for headphones and do not reflect his live sets. Is this an excuse for the lack of fluidity here? Or is his angular, Avant Garde approach to compositions to be applauded for challenging the way we listen to music? This is a decision for any listener to make. But one thing that is certain is that ‘Cosmogramma’ for the most part is strong, tracing a fascinating arc and revealing a great deal about FlyLo’s creative process. Open your ears.