We live in a time where experimenting with different sounds is strongly encouraged. Where pushing a genre’s limits is becoming the norm. Where combining two or even three genres is far from out of the ordinary. The days of knowing precisely what you hear are over. alternative, electronic, electro-pop, dubstep, shoegaze, chillwave, drum & bass, grime, trip hop, afrobeat: The names of genres have become as outlandish as the music itself. The ability to classify what you’re listening to is now nearly impossible.
And yet, an abundance of genres lay claim to Los Angeles producer Flying Lotus, also known as Steven Ellison. Flying Lotus is as experimental as they come, pushing even experimental music to places its never been before. From jazz to hip hop and heavy bass to music that would fit right in a 90s videogame, Flying Lotus covers more territory in an album than most artists will in their career. This versatility shines on his fourth studio album, Until the Quiet Comes.
“All In” introduces the massive 18-track album with harmonies, elegant chimes and uppity percussion, but a sense of tension arises when featured singer, Niki Randa, chimes in as if from nowhere as the assembled sounds suddenly fall to silence: “Wasn’t that for us to claim?” she sings in her angelic voice. The end of this track transitions neatly into “Getting There,” as Randa continues with her goddess-like vocals, accompanied by a stretch of janky percussion beats.
Transitions are an important aspect to any Flying Lotus album, and he keys them in so masterfully that it’s often difficult to note when a song has changed and when it hasn’t. It gives his albums a sense of cohesion. It’s also refreshing in a time where today’s artists are constantly taking shortcuts by trying to hit a homerun with the next big single.
The two released singles so far from Until the Quiet Comes are back-to-back at the middle of the album. “Putty Boy Strut” is a fusion of an 8-bit video game sound with jazz guitar and bass filtered throughout, and “See Thru to U (featuring Erykah Badu)” is a track powered by upbeat percussion as Badu’s vocals pile up, layer after layer, on top of one another. The latter ends with Badu breaking into an eerie vocal solo that begins a medley, in which the next three tracks seem to fuse into one.
Flying Lotus’ genre-busting sound isn’t always a spot-on sound, however. Until the Quiet Comes has its moments where beats run in circles and bleep bloops fall as if lacking a purpose. But the majority of the album soars in its congruency and mysterious charm.
“Only If You Wanna” pays homage to Flying Lotus’s great Aunt, jazz pianist Alice Coltrane, where a jazz guitar rides atop a floating baseline arpeggio, imitating that vague sense of well-being that downbeat Jazz music has forever embodied. This lofty feeling is again found in “Phantasm (featuring Laura Darlington” where Darlington’s soft lulls drift over a dreary, crackling beat.
“Electric Candyman” features Thom Yorke (lead singer of Radiohead) and brings a darker tone as the beat glitches while cradling back and forth. Yorke’s vague croon says little, but the ghostly presence he brings speaks volumes. The dark, curious tone felt from this song is is just one example of Flying Lotus’ ability to incorporate an underlying instrumental theme that evokes an immediate emotional feeling.
That type of theme is strongest at the end of the album on “me Yesterday//Corded.” The song starts with a softly dissonant steel drum, hitting notes aimlessly throughout its delightfully imperfect lullaby, as if unsure of where it’s leading the song. The sound begins to swell as a shrill falsetto sets in, while a powerful, trembling bass filters in and out, as if to warn that the eye of the storm is soon to be over. Sure enough, halfway through, the steel drum fizzles to an end and the falsetto falls; celestial synths begin to dance and wobble as the percussion picks up the beat and runs with it to the finish.
This is the kind of song that conjures up a feeling within the listener that is hard to pinpoint; the kind of song that leaves one with no idea what just happened, but knowing that whatever it was felt right. As the sounds gather and evolve throughout these songs, the meaning they convey is so easily changed. Flying Lotus’ ability to relay any type of emotion through his sounds directly to the listener is uncanny, and his journey through genres brings that unique ability to Until the Quiet Comes as a whole. A journey worth experiencing, indeed.