Album Review: Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma

Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
Warp: 2010
Purchase on Amazon

Four years ago, Steven Ellison closed the curtains on his debut album 1983 with a track called “Unexpected Delight”; an atypical, tranquil three minutes of utter ecstasy. It was after just one listen that I had established a certainty that Flying Lotus would continue to create bleeding edge expressions. He’s behind the scenes working ahead of the times. We’re a mere handful of months into a young 2010 and FlyLo is already responsible for some of the year’s finest material in Gonjasufi’s A Sufi and a Killer & José James’ Blackmagic. Alas, there’s Cosmogramma, Ellison’s new baby. Handcrafted, placed under tremendous guardianship, and trained to flourish deep within your innermost feelings. Of course that’s no easy path, which explains the challenge faced when listening to this record. Much like our complex system, Cosmogramma bends. It curves; it fluctuates; it breathes.

The most interesting feature regarding Cosmogramma is its spread. It may take a handful, even several listens before you understand the grand scheme of things. After one listen, tracks like “Zodiac Shit” and “Galaxy in Janaki” were havens — dependable reference points that I quickly felt comfortable with. “Zodiac Shit” placed me in a meditative state with it’s peaceful remedy of quivering strings and a sonic flare, each like individual blips located on a radar device. As for “Galaxy in Janaki”? I’d like to thank Adult Swim for teasing it months ago. Space is the place, and this tune embraces that motto with a pure clusterfuck of galactic flavors. Can’t forget my first listen of “Do The Astral Plane” either, as I like to document every time I spontaneously burst into dance in my office. Keep that funk alive.

A handful of listens into Cosmogramma, I made sense of “Satelllliiiiiteee”. The heavy breathing background, the stampeding percussion; it makes for a great digital tribal hymn. “Table Tennis” took some time — a long rally — to warm up. This is Laura Darlington’s most ambitious contribution to Flying Lotus’ work yet, lullabying during a ping-pong match which, judging by when the ball makes contact with the table, acknowledging gravity, is being played on a spaceship. We thought it wasn’t possible. Myth busted.

Several listens into Cosmogramma, everything was in its right place. Kid A reference intended, the Thom Yorke’d “…And The World Laughs With You” does not fall into this category. That was diagnosed under “ill” immediately. “Arkestry”, as a digital jazz piece, is so Coltrane (go figure). The overcast saxophone notes blend into the sporadic percussion, with a hint of harp on the pointe finale. It’s so organic, so subtle in comparison to some of the more direct pieces on the LP, that it breezed right by. “Mmmhmm” provides much more clarity, though with such easy-going stature, could only slowly convince me of its important presence as a vital inhale.

The variety may overwhelm or disorient listeners, but Cosmogramma’s grandeur is what truly sets Flying Lotus apart from his acquaintances. Ellison carefully decided to pour all of his creativity out onto this record, an overflow of many genres that forge together to make one of the most challenging, rewarding, and brilliant albums in quite some time. Contrary to the 1983 title, it’s an expected delight.

★★★★½

4.5 out of 5

15 thoughts on “Album Review: Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma

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  1. Great work. Really. There are a lot of little sounds that we find little by little, it’s like a game to listen to this album everytime

  2. Review’s got it down to a tee; was confused as fuck on first listen, astral plane grabbed me and it is only a year or so later after lots more listens that I’m starting to understand it… Don’t listen in-ear is my advance it amplifies the headfuck, first few listens on a hi-fi!!

  3. Brandon Rae|

    afan → Much appreciated! Thanks for the responses.

  4. Zach Cole|

    I love this album. So good.

  5. i got my new studio headphones yesterday and the second record i tested on them was cosmogramma. i admit i gave it 3.5/5 about 3 days ago. but this record is growing on me man. i dont think i have ever heard so many sounds on one record. this album is alien. and i havent stopped listening to it since. your review is pretty much spot on.

  6. frank_be|

    this album is phenomenal. It has few rivals and many will have a very hard time removing it from its number one spot. The review leaves much to be desired though, it fails to capture the epicness and grandeur or the album… It is the Grammer of the Cosmos indebt to Sun Ra, his auntie Alice Coltrane and the sonic theoretics of Ravi Shankar and Ascension era John Coltrane, while continuing to riff on Aphex Twin and Dilla. It isn’t about cities, identities or scenes, it’s about traveling the space ways bad and beautiful

  7. Loving the new album. His previous album Los Angeles is a bit more cohesive but Cosmogramma is definitely more groovy. It’s got that funk. “Do The Astral Plane”, “Zodiac Shit” and “Satelllliiiiiteee” are stellar to me. I’ve listened to it about 4-5 times and I’m hearing new things with each new listen. I agree with your last point about variety. The variety of many genres is what makes the album more accessible. Whether that was deliberate on Ellison’s part it worked for me.

    Good review Brandon.
    peace.

  8. Craig Jenkins|

    This is one of those slightly ahead of its time classics. I can already tell.

  9. Album of the year for me…
    I can tell FlyLo and his collaborators put a lot of effort into this release. I hear new things with every listen.

  10. Been listening to this record for over 2 weeks and i have to say im a little bit disappointed. The Genius Flying Lotus didn’t grab me like his previous work. And this record is abit all over the place. His latest work on Jose James classic Black Magic was flawless and i was kind of wanting the same with this record.

    I couldnt make out his vision on this record. unlike sa-ra and there work which is more complete. This record will no doubt grow on me. but at the moment i give it a 3.5/5

    PS.

    Can’t wait for that Distant Relatives Review. whoa!

  11. Man, I don’t know what to think about this review. FL is like Miles Davis or Zappa — regardless of what I think about his choices, I always respect the skills and the vision. That said, most of this album didn’t do it for me. Which probably means my dumb cracker ass will love it in 3 years when I randomly put it on and suddenly realize how genius it really was.

  12. BOSS! BOSS! BOSS!

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