It’s odd to think that Flying Lotus started his musical career in the mid-2000s as a fairly standard beatmaker, straddling the divide between rap and electronica like so many in the post-Prefuse 73 world. Because in the 13 years since he has moved far beyond that scene, becoming more ambitious sonically, structurally and conceptually than any of his then-peers, and he’s outdone himself again with this significantly longer release. FlyLo is on a winning streak, having produced two of the decade’s best electronic albums, but is 66 minutes stretching the material a bit thin?
Well, yes and no. The productions sparkle, bulging with tricks and effects, assisted as usual by Thundercat on bass and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson on string arrangement. The J Dilla influences are still clear in the drumwork on tracks like Post Requisite and 9 Carrots, and homage is paid to Madlib’s Quasimoto project with the Fantastic Planet OST sample in Black Balloons Reprise. FlyLo’s skill in crafting characterful vignettes is undimmed, lopsided beats mingling effortlessly with sounds borrowed from free jazz and soul. The main difference here is the tracks more frequently expand beyond the two-minute mark, with mixed results.
More, featuring Anderson .Paak, spends its first minute in a noodly malaise before beat-switching to something more appealing, a bassy groove for .Paak’s smooth verses. But the structure feels suited to a shorter song and the hook outstays its welcome, making the track a missed opportunity. A more successful excursion is lead single Fire Is Coming, which progresses from an ominous David Lynch narration to Jersey Club-style kickdrums as if this were the most natural thing in the world. Land Of Honey, featuring Solange Knowles, trudges along somewhat aimlessly, while Takashi proves to be an album highlight.
The track opens with lo-fi electric piano, which consolidates into an arpeggiated melody while vintage drum machine sounds keep time. Elements start piling up, but it’s not long before a beat-switch leaves the listener with a sped-up moombahton beat and clavichord chords. The sequence is more than a little goofy, reminiscent of eccentrically upbeat video game music, but the vibe is infectious. Another highlight is Yellow Belly, with Tierra Whack’s hilarious vocals (“I put my titties in his face / Titties in his face! / He’s got titties in his face!”) riding a low-key and wonky beat.
Say Something is a radical departure from the norm, an uneasy waltz that pits a whining violin melody against discordant piano plonks, and more tracks of this nature might have been an interesting route to go down, providing Flamagra with more sonic variety. The Climb goes in the opposite direction to be one of the most traditional songs ever heard on a FlyLo album, utilising Thundercat’s vocals on top of a decidedly elegant arrangement and lush chord sequence. The opening and closing tracks bookmark the record with the ambient crackle of fire, but apart from that and Fire Is Coming the concept (supposedly concerning an everlasting flame) does not make a strong impression.
All of which leaves the listener wondering whether FlyLo actually had a clear vision for this album, or if he just felt the need to compensate for the long wait by adding more songs and big names. The expectation that comes with his albums is a high bar, and to falter once in a decade is no crime, but the album sags in a way that his previous work never did (much like Michael Jackson’s Dangerous, which inspires its artwork). He remains an inventive and interesting producer, however, and there are significant patches of brilliance on Flamagra that make it a worthwhile listen.