The Vermont Cynic

Album Review: Flying Lotus straddles hip-hop and electronica with ease


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Flying Lotus

Los Angeles

(Warp Records)

4 Stars

Prefuse 73

Boards of Canada

ALBUM REVIEW

John McMillin

Many readers might be unconsciously familiar with his work – he did the tunes in those trip-hoppy black and white house ads for Adult Swim. Those beats were loopy, reverb-tinged chunks of late-night reverie, and if you liked the space and vibe they conjured, “Los Angeles” would not disappoint.

Critics relegate his music to the hip-hop genre, be it in an abstracted way, but, much like label-mate Prefuse 73 (Flying Lotus’ trailblazing predecessor and most obvious reference point), Flylo’s music is not simply hip-hop or electronica; it occupies the liminal in between.

Hearing his sound, one understands how easily Flying Lotus can tour with RZA, while at the same time occupying a place on the monumental electronic music imprint, Warp Records.

Flylo’s hip-hop is more abstract than J Dilla’s most psychedelic moments, and it is equally indebted to glitched-out electronic music. Flylo borrows Dilla’s drunken drum style, where the drum sequencing often sounds punched-in and slightly out-of-time with the rest of the track.

The loose sequencing creates a space that is open and uninhibited. Difficult to pin down, it creates an organic presence in an environment that is drenched with digital crackle and unquestionably formed in a laptop.

Spaciously, the feeling is similar to Burial’s imperfect, out-of-time meter. But Flylo’s sonic pallet – with the exception of their mutual fondness for digital crackle (used to mimic the sound of a heavily played vinyl record) – is all his own.

This is perfect music for a low-key, mixed-company party; soft enough to be passively enjoyed, its complexity drowned out by clanking bottles and chatter, but intricate enough to warrant active headphone listening on one’s own.

The album’s instrumentation varies greatly, but never lacks cohesion. “Melt!” applies an arabesque drum pattern from left field, while “Beginners Falafel” uses heavily processed synthesizer and an eerily seductive female vocal sample. Both songs are quite different, but unmistakably Flying Lotus.

The majority of tracks apply a hip-hoppy tempo of about 95 beats per minute, but on “Parisian Goldfish” Flylo goes electro, with laser synths and faster tempo that would work well on a dance floor.

The record’s largely instrumental glitch-hop, with a sparse but tasteful vocal sample sprinkled here and there, includes three fantastic tracks with guest vocalists. Prefuse would have gotten an underground MC to spit on his track, but Flylo culled instead three relatively unknown (as of yet) but talented singers who lean more to the jazz and electro-acoustic side of the popular music canon.

Closer “Auntie’s Lock/ Infinitum” features splendid vocals by The Long Lost’s Laura Darlington. Awash with digital ambience simmering unassumingly beneath the song’s immediate surface, the song is light and beautiful, sounding as though it could float away if it wasn’t for the arpeggiated synth line holding it down.

The name Flying Lotus may ring of some new-age bullshit, but his original and forward-thinking sound is one of the most distinctive born of the year of the Rat.

Sum is greater than parts for My Morning Jacket’s fifth disc

My Morning Jacket

Evil Urges

(Ato Records/ Red)

ALBUM REVIEW

Stephen Hausmann

Of all the people reading this review, it would be a safe bet that less than 10 percent have heard My Morning Jacket’s debut album, TennesÂsee Fire.

That’s not a knock against them – I’ve only heard two or three tracks myself. It’s rarely in major music stores and contains none of the mountain-leveling guitar bombast of everything they’ve done since.

Little surprise it’s less well known. Lo-fi country doesn’t instantly leap to mind when My Morning Jacket is mentioned. Good news: what folks look for in this band – anthemic, fist-pumping songs with Jim James howling in the lead – is alive and well with this summer’s Evil Urges, MMJ’s fifth official studio release.

A band that’s come miles since their inception in 1998, Evil Urges is a showcase of how far musicians can change in ten years. “Change,” specifically; not exactly mature. James’ lyrics are still, well, silly: “You really saw my naked heart/you really brought out the naked part,” and all of “The Librarian” (a song about a sexy, subdued librarian) exemplify the fact that James and company are at their best during his song’s instrumental sections.

Yet, no one (at least, no one I know) listens to My Morning Jacket for spiritual enlightenÂment. Their allure lies in just how damn well the various piecÂes of this band come together.

Take the album highlight, “Smokin’ From Shootin’.” The lyrics aren’t mind-blowing, as per usual. It doesn’t deliver immediately with the ecstatic crescendo, as does, say, “One Big Holiday.” James’ voice isn’t soaked with reverb like it is on At Dawn. But this isn’t the same group and old predictions don’t hold true.

The chorus, for one, is pure MMJ. First run through, it’s subdued. The catchiness is imÂmediately noticeable and it’s an easy song to love. The second verse-chorus stretch, now with a steady beat and punctuated with guitar crunches, is sung with slightly more bravado. Follow this up with a classic Jim James scream or two, a tremendous breakdown and yeah, this is the 21st Century Rock Band we’ve come to adore.

The hits are there, cerÂtainly – “Thank You Too,” “I’m Amazed,” Parts I and II of “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream,” are all huge winners. The question must be asked though: what in the name of Hendrix was this band thinking with “Highly Suspicious?” A song that must be heard to be believed, it is a guaranteed laugh with each listen – and not in any complimentary sense.

Evil Urges has its spots. MayÂbe My Morning Jacket will never be a band that can sustain 55 minutes of music without missÂing a beat. Their talent, though – just like their songs, and even the band itself – is that the sum will always be more impressive than any parts separated. And if they can create Evil Urges from that formula, I’ll give in again and again.

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Album Review: Flying Lotus straddles hip-hop and electronica with ease