Tea Leaf Dancers and the Bonus Beat

Flying Lotus, aka Steve Ellison, has been somewhat of an obsession of mine for the past couple of years. His beats are like these liquid-y flows that carry psychedelic melodies through the ether. His music is transformative. There seems to be a constant state of movement and reforming. It’s hip hop-based, for sure. But as his albums have progressed there’s a sense of jazz free form composing going on. It’s electronic music, but it sounds organic. Even the weirder stuff seems like if you threw it into the earth it would act as compost and come back as something newer, greener, and heartier. I also think that for a lot of folks only about 25% of what Ellison makes is something you’d want to hit repeat on. Maybe 20%. Me? I went all in with Flying Lotus after I bought You’re Dead! back in 2014. It was so out there at times, yet the underlying rhythms kept me going back. It’s like Ellison is the Zappa or Beefheart of the electronic/hip hop/breakbeat world. J Dilla kept it mostly with beats and groove, where Flying Lotus took it one(or two or three) steps further by adding this alien personality in it.

I’m sure I’ve said all this before in previous rants, so sorry.

This time I’m here to say that if you were ever on the fence with Flying Lotus or you prefer him in smaller doses, then the Reset EP is for you. I saw this one sitting at my local record store for the longest time and wondered if I should pick it up. I hadn’t done much research on it and wasn’t sure if it was an EP or single. Turned out it was Ellison’s debut with Warp Records and it came out a few months before his excellent Los Angeles(another album I think the “on the fence” crowd would really dig as a whole.) So a couple months back I grabbed Reset EP and am glad I did.

There’s not much to it, really. It’s 6 tracks and they’re spread over two sides of a 12″. What it lacks in songs, it makes up for in quality songs. “Tea Leaf Dancers” is a sultry, groove-heavy track complete with soulful vocals by Andreya Triana. Strangely enough I could hear a certain Thom Yorke singing this one, too. It snakes along at its own pace. This one really shows the genius in Ellison’s approach to building a beat and committing with some serious melody. “Vegas Collie” is just an absolute killer beat. It’s seems to be unraveling and reforming before your very ears. Wonky sounds and video game noises come in and out of the mix. It’s one of those tracks you see some slow motion kung fu fighting happening as this blasts your ear holes. “Massage Situation” is more languid grooves and expertly placed vocal samples. “Spicy Sammich” sounds like a galactic jungle rhythm Miles Davis might’ve dreamt up in a fever dream. It’s very moody and dark before the snare kicks in and things get very street level. “Bonus Beat” has a video game quality to it, like something Ellison would’ve come up with for his Cartoon Network music montages. “Dance Floor Stalker” sounds like its name. You can almost picture some weirdo heading out on the dance floor looking for some unsuspecting victim to gyrate next to. It’s a quirky 808 beat with wonky noises laid out throughout. Perfect way to end a debut.

Like I said, within months of this EP Flying Lotus released his second Warp Records release, the excellent Los Angeles. Reset EP is very much in the vein of that album. Ellison had yet to truly fly his freak flag on this one. Here he’s honing his beatmaking skills to the nth degree. It’s a swift shot of liquid beats and organic clicks and clacks with some serious street grit and groove.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a spicy sammich with my name on it waiting for me.



Two Days Since A Lost Space/Time Accident

I’m man enough to admit it, my friend Thom turned me onto Flying Lotus.

I fancy myself a guy that keeps up with music. I may not like a lot of what the majority masses pass as “good”, but I try at least to be aware of what’s happening outside myIMG_1551 own four walls in case I’m cornered by teenagers testing my . Yeah, I’m aware of the Taylor Swifts, the Adeles, the Drakes, and the Macklemores. I’m at least privy to the Lady Gagas, Kanyes, and Carly Rae Jespens. I have a general recollection of the…..okay, that’s all I can do. I watched Spectre last Saturday night(great Bond flick, by the way) and Sam Smith(you know, the guy that’s never heard of my friend Thom and his band) sang the theme song. It was utter garbage. How this guy was picked to do the new Bond song over my friend Thom is mind-boggling. My pal Thom and his band were apparently in the running for that honor as well and they knocked it out of the park. Perfect song, man. But no, they went with this Sam Smith clown.

Okay, so back to Flying Lotus.

Over the years I’d heard the name Flying Lotus mentioned in various articles and saw the records reviewed on various sites. I knew it was electronic music of some sort, but since I hadn’t really found my in with the whole electronic music thing all the talk fell on deaf ears(my deaf ears.) Then in 2011 my friend Thom, you see he put out a record with his pals and it was called The King Of Limbs. It was very much an electronic album. Sure he’d messed around with electronic music in the past, and even experimented with it on past albums with his buddies from college, but not to the extent they did on The King Of Limbs(weird name, right? I told ’em they should’ve gone with Master Of Reality…apparently that’s used already?) Well, I never paid much attention to electronic music all that much before(I did quite enjoy this cassette I got from this Devo cover band I saw at the bar one night called We Are Devo….not), but I was floored over what I heard from my buddy Thom on this new album of his. By then, my pal Thom was doing DJing gigs and dancing strangely in videos so he was all in. He’d mentioned this Flying Lotus in interviews and had said he really dug it. I decided then and there I’d investigate this Flying Lotus further.

Then, I probably drank a lot of beer and forgot all about it for a couple of years.

So time goes by and next thing I know it’s 2014 and everyone’s talking about Flying Lotus’ new album You’re Dead!. It was Christmas Eve and I was out buying some last minute gifts when I decided to stop at my favorite local record shop and maybe do some last minute shopping for myself. On a whim(maybe it was the Christmas spirit…maybe I had $30 burning a hole in my pocket) I grabbed Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead! and headed home. I absolutely loved that record. It was a musical stew of electronic music, hip hop, jazz, and hints of Frank Zappa weirdness. After kicking myself for waiting so long to explore the freaky musical worlds of Flying Lotus I set course for the heart of the Flying Lotus.

FullSizeRender (31)First, I did some digging. Flying Lotus is actually Steve Ellison, and he’s an electronic musician, producer, rapper, and possibly from another dimension. At least his music sounds like it could be. It goes from frantic and erratic beats to shimmering synths to low down speaker exploding bass. It all comes together with Ellison’s own brand of interstellar groove. Speaking of interstellar, Ellison’s also the grand nephew of jazz pianist Alice Coltrane, which would also make him the grand nephew of the king of interstellar free form musical art, John Coltrane. The musical spirit runs deep in that family.

Once I’d educated myself a bit I quickly added to my Flying Lotus collection with Until The Quiet Comes. The whack-a-mole insanity that permeated You’re Dead! seemed to be at bay on Until The Quiet Comes. Still a lot of frantic beats and hazy electronics, but there seemed to almost be a calmed vibe. Like the album took a healthy dose of Ritalin. Still very slick and cool. Would you expect any less?

I just picked up Flying Lotus’ 2010 album Cosmogramma. I gotta say, this one is really doing it for me. All the synapses seem to be firing in unison. This record shows Ellison expanding his musical world from slick beats and cool-as-shit atmosphere to a more free-form, hard bop-meets-Atari exploding head alien shit. Los Angeles showed lots of talent and a knack for tasty beats. Cosmogramma is where all bets are off.

“Clock Catcher” sounds like you just hit the 1,000,000 points mark on the pinball machine before things get launched into outer space. “Pickled!” is a perfect exampleFullSizeRender (32) of Ellison’s ability to take the spirit of the old guard and mix it with his bag of new musical tricks. Bass lines buzz like a bumblebee in your ears as the beat presses on. It’s sonically rich and exploratory like dissecting the essence of existence itself. “Intro/A Cosmic Drama” swells like an interstellar symphony before crashing into the Boards of Canada-esque “Zodiac Shit”. I can really hear my buddy Thom’s version of electronic music in this one. Speaking of my buddy Thom, he lends his ethereal voice to the cool as hell “….And The World Laughs With You”. Elsewhere “MmmHmm” has a Thundercat on it. I’m not sure which one, maybe Cheetara. “German Haircut” sounds like you’re walking up to a jazz club before opening as the band is warming up. In the distance a UFO is landing and beaming people on board. “Dance Of The Pseudo Nymph” is cool as hell. Oh, and the music is great, too. It’s like beat poetry, but in music form.

What’s going on with Cosmogramma is that Flying Lotus is reaching for the milky way to sprinkle some intergalactic magic on his music and it pays off big time. I think Flying Lotus is essential listening for anyone that fancies themselves a connoisseur of real, true blue art done not for the masses but just the lucky few that get it. Fortunately it seems as if quite a few do get Flying Lotus, as that allows him to keep exploring and keep expanding musical boundaries and hungry minds.

If you’re new to Flying Lotus’ world, I’d recommend starting at the beginning and digging deep into Los Angeles. Then once your feet are good and wet, kick off with Cosmogramma. From there, the skies the limit. Until The Quiet Comes and You’re Dead! will complete that heady trip into your own psyche. They’ll rewire you in the best way imaginable.

Well, I’m off to thank Thom for introducing me to Flying Lotus’ world. Maybe I’ll buy Thom lunch. He’s so thin. Probably from all that dancing.