Until The Quiet Comes
Jeff Pearson, September 25, 2012
Listen: “me Yesterday//Corded”
When comparing the performance aspects of Flying Lotus’ career to his illustrious studio work throughout the years, a couple of key differences stand out. Firstly, you go to a Flying Lotus concert to dance. You listen to a Flying Lotus album to become completely and utterly lost. Secondly, when you are lucky enough to see Steven Ellison, the man behind the proverbial Flying Lotus mask—great-nephew of Alice and John Coltrane—perform in concert, you’ll be treated to an array of space-age hip-hop remixes, seamlessly interweaving together with his own space-age hip-hop, all while Ellison has the biggest, most infectious smile on his face. The work that Ellison puts on record seems to be coming from a completely different man. Cerebral, methodical and twisted, a Flying Lotus record could not be created with the same loose, fun-loving vibe that Ellison radiates on stage. I picture him hunkered over equipment for hours a day, face screwed up in concentration, hardly breaking to eat. I can’t say for sure this is what it’s like, if anyone can create the dense material ever-present on his records with a smile on their face, it’s Ellison.
His sound over the course of his recording career has morphed from the hip-hop centric explorations in sonic depths on 1983 to future-jazz completely out of this world on Cosmogramma; his music has wormed its way out of the core of the earth to orbiting the planet, creating gorgeous projections in our night skies. It shouldn’t come as a surprise for Flying Lotus’ music to see such an astral ascension—it is in his blood, after all. For his fourth full-length LP, Until The Quiet Comes, Flying Lotus’ music seems to have lost that orbit—that connection to his home planet—and is now freely floating through space, a heavenly body unto itself out there in the vastness of space. There is hardly anything connecting Ellison to his earthly upbringing; he is our American ambassador to the stars, bringing beats to—and from—worlds beyond ours.
The record descends upon the listener, immediately immersing them in the foggy atmosphere that seems to surround it. “All In” establishes the overall mood of Until The Quiet Comes, which steadily clouds the listener’s head with a jazzy haze buoyed by skittering, syncopated percussive complexity. The entire record feels like a drive down winding, country roads on a misty night; there is a vibe present for the entirety that is practically tangible yet always out of reach. There is a marked difference between this record and the rest of his catalog in that many of the tracks are colored with guest vocalists. Ellison said in a recent interview, “I feel like more than ever I need to start speaking and saying things on songs rather than letting them just be instrumentals. Again, there’s so much to say, and obviously the music speaks for itself, but I feel like I can define the experience a little bit more with words.” This is made apparent right off the bat with “Getting There,” a track featuring a sultry vocal performance from Niki Randa, the first of her two guest spots on the record. Each voice on Until The Quiet Comes feels disembodied due to the celestial nature of the beats; in giving the album this transient cloak, each sound sprinkled across the fifty-minute timespan acts as its own star, colliding into one another and providing the bursts of light present on the record.
“Sultan’s Request” and “Putty Boy Strut” hover somewhere between after-hours club grime and video game score with their deep bass wobbles and 8-bit electronic chirps. Despite the tracks’ stark contrast to the thematic elements present on Until The Quiet Comes, they don’t deliver dischord; they are more like an altered consciousness of the record that is otherwise unified. The jarring nature of the tracks reminds the listener not to get too comfortable getting lost behind the hazy veil of the record, and in turn, serve to actually unify the record further around the concept of a sort of disunity. Flying Lotus records are not meant to be the linear thoughts of a grounded man. Until The Quiet Comes, in particular, shows that they are meant to be the scatterbrained bursts of genius—the epiphanies of a psychedelic warrior. The difference, of course, between Ellison and most of the rest of the cosmic travelers out there is that his visions come to mesmerizing fruition, while the others’ hardly leave the crawling floral print of their bathroom’s wallpaper.
There’s no questioning the hallucinatory nature of Flying Lotus’ music, but just to solidify those notions is the Thundercat-aided “DMT Song,” a prismatic spiral into the geometric world behind Ellison’s wide eyes. Thundercat, the Brainfeeder space-funk prodigy that Ellison has taken under his wing, provides the staggering bassline and dreamy vocals to the track, giving flight to Flying Lotus’ already airy production. The track has jazz chords suspended not only in their harmonic makeup but also in the way they seem to float through the listener’s headspace—a recurring theme on Until The Quiet Comes, really. The come-down from “DMT Song” is made easier by the relaxed pacing the remainder of the record and soothing guest vocals from the likes of Thom Yorke oohing and ahhing on the funky “Electric Candyman” and Laura Darlington traversing the expansive ocean of sound provided for her on “Phantasm.” The pacing and song placement of the record is really one of Until The Quiet Comes’ greatest attributes. The way each track plays off the last gives it a narrative feel; however disorienting and, at times, confusing the narrative may be, it’s there. It’s like a really great Murakami novel—a journey the listener will never quite be sure is real or a dream.
Fortunately for us, it is real. As “me Yesterday//Corded” rattles the speakers with its tumbling percussion and buzzsaw synthesizers, the breadth of the emotion behind the record all comes into place, firmly placing in the realm of reality. For all of the otherworldliness behind Until The Quiet Comes, moments like the gorgeous crescendo of that track remind the listener that there is an actual person behind the digital mastery. The beauty of the record is the fact that Flying Lotus knows all too well the way home, he just doesn’t feel like taking us there yet. He wants to show us the worlds he has seen, and allow us to breathe their air for many records to come.