Flying Lotus is part of a new generation of artists that can gain a lot of critical attention through crossover novelty. Once relegated to the mildly silly likes of Run DMC and Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”, overt genre-blending has moved from the radio to the blog. At first a seemingly ham-fisted approach, its a strategy that has now gravitated towards the nuance of smaller, more introspective, less radio-friendly acts.
Not everyone loves this new trend. First of all, it can lead to lazy criticism, rewarding shallow ingenuity over craft or emotion. Rap critic Andrew Noz once described Flying Lotus’ sound as “someone playing Squarepusher in one speaker and Dilla in the other.” This is kind of a perfect way to describe the act, if it does sell it a little bit short. Flylo’s 2010 release, Cosmogramma, was the kind of album that makes you want to break out the word phantasmagoria. It’s music that’s so lush you can almost see it in front of your eyes, a layered pastiche of rapidly shifting sounds that’s always interesting and often surprisingly cohesive. While the man’s “gimmick” is clear, his talent is real as well.
Flying Lotus’ new album, Until the Quiet Comes, is best described with none of the above descriptors, and yet, it is much closer to its predecessor than it will initially seem. As the title suggests, Until the Quiet Comes, is a turn away from the bright, sparkling sounds of previous releases, and towards softer, easier sounds. The turn is not made, however, through any sort of new minimalistic approach. This is not an album about “well chosen notes”. Contrast it, for example, with an album like Kraftwerk’s minimalist masterpiece Trans-Europe Express and the difference is stark. TEE is a large, tense sound that glides precariously on top of a bubble of silence. Until the Quiet Comes, on the other hand, has no negative space to be found.
No, UtQC is an album full of small songs with comparatively small sounds. While it maintains a powerfully subtle variety, its built upon layers of quiet, minor themes left intentionally thin and undeveloped. Rather than being, however, a forgettable album, its actually more ambitious possibly than his last. Like Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way or Brian Eno’s Another Green World, two titans of pure mood, UtQC achieves depth not through the size of its sound, but through the complexity of its calm.
While it may not stand up to these classics, Until the Quiet Comes is certainly quite successful in its ability to slowly envelope the listener in its smooth attitude. While the album is still based largely on a rapidly changing set of sounds, the personal influence of J Dilla, so present in Flying Lotus’ past work, has almost vanished here. This means that the music no longer relies on its personality for entertainment. Luckily, Flylo’s versatility and independence has become more and more apparent with each new release. Not only has he proven that he doesn’t need noise to be successful, he’s proven that he doesn’t really need hip-hop either.