"Cosmogramma" by Flying Lotus

Flying Lotus
Cosmogramma

Warp Records
2010

Review

When Flying Lotus puts something in the song title, it's probably meant to be taken literally. I learned this on the track "Table Tennis ft. Laura Darlington" because on that track, there is literally a sample of ping-pong balls bouncing off of a ping-pong table that is turned into the percussion for the song. This is by no means "Instrumental Hip-Hop" so much as it is "Instrumental Music made with Electronic Instruments". For me, Flying Lotus represents the evolution of Jazz music and he continues to evolve his sound as is evident on his latest.

The name of the album is "Cosmogramma" and - according to our friend who I sometimes call "The Oracle" but that most people know as Wikipedia - is meant to mean "Cosmic Drama". Though you might think that means something like Star Wars but less silly - I mean, have you seen the prequels? - I think it has more to do with the random things that conspire to make life alive. Or maybe it's just about space. The thing is that with instrumental music you get to assign whatever meaning you want to it. Therefore, I take it to mean just that there's music everywhere and it is part of what makes the world spin. Flying Lotus wants to take us on a journey that is informed by equal parts 1970's B-Movie orchestral soundtracks, video game music (from Pac-Man and Centipede on through the 8 and 16-bit eras), static, distortion, outer space as depicted in popular fiction, Jazz, Soul, Funk, and Hip-Hop...though at that last influence, I have to say a few more words.

Hip-Hop was my gateway to this crazy instrumental stuff. I have many friends who have sort of lost interest in the MC'ing-part of Hip-Hop over the years and been more about the beats. Over time, these folks have introduced me to sounds that seemed to have started in Hip-Hop but that have diverged into something unto themselves. The so-called LA-Beat Scene artists are a good example of that. Ostensibly, these are "Beat Makers", but for the life of me I could not imagine a rapper improving anything that FlyLo has served up this go-round. I wouldn't go so far as to say that this music is ahead of its time, but I will say that I find more and more that this sort of music really deserves to be thought of as something independent of Hip-Hop to the extent where people start to think of this as the evolution of Jazz Music.

So enough words. What on this album can convince you of the genius that is contained here (as if you needed more than Ping-Pong made percussion)? Well, let's start with "...And The World Laughs With You." I loved this song BEFORE I knew it had Thom Yorke on it - his voice is rendered near unrecognizable anyhow. But once I found out he was on the joint, it made a lot of sense. It does sound a bit like experimental electronic Radiohead/Thom Yorke solo. Maybe that's why FlyLo has been on selected tour dates with Thom's "Atom's For Peace". This song marks the point on this record where Flying Lotus really hits his stride and the 4 tracks that follow are all amazing in their own right. "...And The World Laughs With You" is followed by the equally impressive "Arkestry" with its crazy drum roll that starts the track that is followed by a bit of jazz that segues into some space sounds. This is really Jazz filtered through Flying Lotus. It's like the melody is fighting to come out or something.

"MmmmHmm" cue's a 70's Cult Classic orchestral music intro that is replaced by - well, what I like to think of as a FlyLo classic. This song is my favorite on the album and has an incredible baseline reminiscent of Steppin Out.

I suppose that "Do The Astral Plane" is FlyLo's version of a dance song. There's nothing on "Cosmogramma" that was so obviously meant to be paired with a ridiculous video about tearing up the dance floor as "Parisian Goldfish" was on the "Los Angeles" record, but this is probably the funkiest track on the album (and hence the closest) - and is clearly meant to shake the money maker to.

"Satellliiiiiiiteee" has a panicked energy to it with just a touch of Hip-Hop in the lyrical delivery until turns things down a notch, and sounds almost like lounge music. It is a compelling and amazing track that you will have to listen to a few times to really get.

Flying Lotus is all about bringing as much sonic chaos as possible to a song and ordering it in a way that transforms it from random odd sounds into music and on this album he has succeeded in spades. I cannot recommend this highly enough to people who are fans of instrumental electronic music. Once in a great while things don't manage to come together as well as in other instances, but there is so much good stuff here, I doubt most people will notice.

4.267 out of 5

Track Ratings

1. Clock Catcher (01:12)
2. Pickled! (02:13) 4
3. Nose Art (01:58) 4
4. Intro//A Cosmic Drama (01:14)
5. Zodiac Shit (02:44) 5
6. Computer Face//Pure Being (02:32) 3
7. …and the World Laughs With You (feat. Thom Yorke) (02:55) 5
8. Arkestry (02:51) 5
9. MmmHmm (feat. Thundercat) (04:14) 5
10. Do the Astral Plane (03:57) 5
11. Satelllliiiiiiiteee (03:49) 5
12. German Haircut (01:57) 3
13. Recoiled (03:36) 3
14. Dance of the Pseudo Nymph (02:46) 4
15. Drips//Auntie's Harp (02:10) 4
16. Table Tennis (feat. Laura Darlington) (03:01) 4
17. Galaxy in Janaki (02:27) 5