Flying Lotus doesn’t rush to release a new album. The lauded production visionary is a man of patience and precision. Fans should appreciate the gaps between projects, though. Running at the industry’s hamster-wheel pace for the sake of relevance will seldom end in meticulous, spiritually mind-bending worlds like You’re Dead!, FlyLo's acclaimed fifth studio album, released in 2014.
After five years of relative musical silence, the Brainfeeder label head has returned with Flamagra, his sixth studio album. Five years is the longest break the Los Angeles-based genre-blender has taken in his prestigious career. Designing a new universe of sound takes time, and time is what the man born Steven Ellison has earned.
The most pressing question is, what does this universe sound like?
Is it electronic and glitchy? Jazzy and soulful? Psychedelic and trap-inspired? Everyone is “trap-inspired” these days. But this is Flying Lotus; the possibilities are endless. The possibilities are why we press play.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
A voice spooky enough to be in a Jordan Peele thriller is speaking. This is a cinematic atmosphere. Maybe we’ll get a full narrative album from FlyLo this time. Oh, the gospel just arrived. Nice groove. This is seamlessly warping in so many directions. The time of heroes, eh? I don’t know the clip he sampled. Is it a TV show or movie? I wonder. Love the bass. It feels like I’m traveling through the start screen of a video game. This is a solid start. Was that Goku!?
2. “Post Requisite”
This is a weird, alien bounce. Harlem shaking with Martians music. I like it, though. Another warping soundscape; sounds are bouncing off the walls like Flubber. Why hasn't Disney aired Flubber the way B.E.T. airs Baby Boy? The world may never know. FlyLo beats are so smooth even though they’re so full; they're never overwhelming.
3. “Heroes In A Half Shell”
Sparkling bass with a nice tempo. There are some harmonizing vocals in the back. I love the drums, but I still feel like I’m dancing on a foreign planet. Is Flamagra some kind of intergalactic dance club? I would visit.
4. “More” ft. Anderson .Paak
Loving all the basslines. Anderson! I'm happy he was able to land a placement. Great vocals. Beat switch! Man, this song is giving us a variety pack of sounds. This groove is all him! I love when Anderson gets in this rapper bag. He's full of vivid storytelling with a potent flow. There's a pretty infectious groove here; jumps in your bones. I'm not sure what the theme is, exactly, but musically, this is grabbing. Back-half might be even better than the first. Anderson has as many styles as Frieza has transformations. Run it back!
Love the keys. Love a good shaker. This moves like a slinky down granite steps. It's just so heavy, with a stocky progression, but the pace is super smooth like Godzilla on rollerskaters. I’ll revisit.
6. "Burning Down The House" ft. George Clinton
More boogie! A song titled “Burning Down The House” is perfect for George Clinton. His voice is so full, a personality that's impossible not to recognize. I'm bouncing in my seat. The house burning is obviously a metaphor for a party house. It’s so ominous, yet groovy. “I know something that they don’t know." I wonder how this fits into the album’s theme? One of my favorites. The arrangement is incredible.
7. “Spontaneous” ft. Little Dragon
The album is moving at a pretty fluid pace. An interesting approach with the chords, like a techno-pop song. Robotic, but warm. Really warm. I haven’t had my Little Dragon phase yet, but Yukimi Nagano has my attention. She's killing it. The Donald Glover character from the movie Guava Island would add some nice summertime magic to "Spontaneous." I’ll play this one again. Short, but it’s compelling.
Oh, this is one of the most grabbing beats thus far. I love the build up. FlyLo is giving off Toro vibes with these sunny soundscapes. This record is much warmer than You’re Dead!. “Takashi” sounds like music that would be perfect for a Sims game based in paradise. This is easily one of my favorites. The swing! There's a full-blown carnival unfolding. I would love a Flying Lotus dance album at this BPM. The track is a bit long, but I’m not asking for it to end. Another switch up. Placing a nice bounce section on the back end was the right call. The family reunion claps are good, too. Reminds me of KAYTRANADA.
9. “Pilgrim Side Eye”
Interesting change of pace. I'm not loving "Pilgrim Side Eye" instantly, but I’m getting more and more into it by the second. It feels like an invasion; like someone is trying to take over this intergalactic dance club. Wonky and warping. My mind is spinning. Escalation and then a sudden calm. That was cinematic. A keeper.
10. “All Spies”
I love these chords; the build-up is crazy. FlyLo is great at setting moods. Destiny's Child would’ve sung over this if they ever went through a techno-R&B phase. The drum patterns are giving me Timbo flashbacks. I'm crying in a river thinking about how great Aalyiah would sound here. Someone call Justin Timberlake, tell him he can record an entire album in a cave if it’s over this production.
11. “Yellow Belly” ft. Tierra Whack
Oh, this is whacky! “Yellow Belly” takes us on a trip inside of Toyland. Man! I can’t wait for Tierra to rip this. So many sounds. I wish DOOM was here with Tierra! Yo!!! How she came in singing. André 3000 in the year 3000. I’m losing my mind. “My shoe is untied, he said I’m tripping.” Tierra sounds like a confused kid who hasn’t lost her innocence. The vocal pitch change… She is so captivating. Wow. This is my new favorite beat on the album. In my mind, Tierra Whack is the long lost third member of EarthGang. I can see them making magic together. Another keeper. FlyLo really gets the best features, wow.
12. "Black Balloons Reprise" ft. Denzel Curry
*Wipes forehead* This is a lengthier album, but it’s keeping my attention. Light build up, and then Denzel went straight to business. Love his flow. I’m pretty sure this album might be about Armageddon, or at least this song. The vocals behind him are haunting! Black Dracula music.
13. “Fire Is Coming” ft. David Lynch
This sounds like a vocal clip from an old TV show. Is it Twin Peaks? I haven’t seen it yet. Pretty dark. The production is setting a murderous mood. Something bad is going to happen in this song. “Tommy’s mom stood frozen for a moment.” Oh, the drums just came in and the vocals are being pitched lower. How he builds up to “Fire is coming” was masterful. Anarchy. The soundtrack to marching to the White House and doing things I’m not allowed to type. I assume that voice was David? Not what I expected David Lynch to sound like…
14. “Inside Your Home”
The song title sounds like it should be attached to a trap song about home invasion. If YG had a song called “Inside Your Home,” I would know exactly what it’s about before pressing play. I really like this beat, though! I wouldn’t play it during any breaking or entering missions, but it jams.
15. “Actually Virtual” ft. Shabazz Palaces
Here we go! This is the making of something special. Pitched vocals. “Traveling with nowhere to go...” An odd bounce but I’m into it. I have no idea what Shabazz is saying, but it feels like the universe will be saved if someone deciphers these verses.
I’m pretty deep into the album. I wonder how he’ll play out the back half. A bit slower and smoother, with a nice rock-influence. I’m not completely sold. The arrangement is noteworthy. Everything works but I needed a shot of energy this far into Flamagra.
17. “Remind U”
Soft keys. A graceful build up. This one is unfolding at its own pace. I like the mood. Drums just came in. Some great, infectious percussion. These are the grooves that sneak up on you. FlyLo has this incredible way of creating moments in beats that feel like movies. Sonically, they are scenes made for the cinema. I’ll always appreciate his musical genius for that alone. This ending is like a sun setting.
18. “Say Something”
I like this rhythm. There's a lot of personality in the keys. It’s really dramatic; the kind of strings you would hear in a movie score. There should be AMC theaters full of moviegoers hearing these strings in the next John Wick movie. I will return again.
19. “Debbie Is Depressed”
Let’s all send Debbie some positive energy. Okay, FlyLo, these drums are it. A smooth pace. Who is this singer? I didn’t expect vocals here. They sound like Ellison. This is throwing me for a loop. Reminds me a bit of Captain Murphy meets some of Donald Glover’s more unique vocal pitches on "Awaken, My Love!" “The days all feel the same.”
20. “Find Your Own Way Home”
The song title sounds like the last words heard when someone is kicked out of an Uber pool. Love the vocal build up behind the keys. Oh yeah, this is nice. Some great textures in the arrangement. It doesn’t sound like being kicked out of an Uber pool, but soft and soothing, like being hugged by a friend at the airport after a seven-hour flight.
21. “The Climb” ft. Thundercat
Even though this is his first feature on the album, there are so many sounds that have reminded me of Thundercat. “I just can’t quit.” This is placed two songs after “Debbie Is Depressed,” solid sequencing. Some positive affirmation. I can’t get over the warmth on this album. Thundercat sounds like a veteran life coach. “The Climb” is very supportive. I’m encouraged to conquer the world.
I don’t know if I have album fatigue or if I’m just used to shorter projects, but Flamagra is starting to feel like an actual movie. This isn't a criticism so much as me recognizing that we've reached the point in this one-listen review where I cannot believe the album is still going. “Pygmy” feels like an interlude. There's not much happening production-wise, even the pacing doesn’t feel like it’s building up too much.
23. “9 Carrots” ft. Toro y Moi
Toro! Glad to see him featured. Flamagra reminds me of his warmer, summer-weather soundscapes. I love the vocals coming in the back. The groove is infectious. “9 Carrots” is pleasant as they come. Nice little breakdown to close.
I wonder if this is titled after Final Fantasy IV? It’s possible. I love these chords and the bassline. I don’t know exactly what’s so familiar about "FF4," but it’s oddly nostalgic. It takes me somewhere, I just don’t know how often I will want to return. Definitely, something I can hear playing in the lo-fi hip-hop mashups.
25. “Land Of Honey” ft. Solange
I’m expecting magic. I know, I know expectations are bad, but c’mon, this is Flying Lotus and Solange. Loving the tone that is being set with the build up. Solange came in sounding like pure sugar. Oh yeah, this is lift-off to another dimension music. They are great together. The dramatic strings are a good touch. This is what you play when a Dragon gets killed. I would make a Game of Thrones reference, but I didn’t watch past season one, and spoiler, there are no dragons in season one. The “Hallelujah” she just sang sent my spirit to the clouds. Oh my, these last 30 seconds were incredible.
26. “Thank U Malcolm”
Man, just the title gets to you. We miss you, Mac. Nice, slow build up. It’s very patient. FlyLo is taking his time. BOOM, sound just came down from the heavens. Very warm, powerful. The kind of beat that swells with emotion.
27. “Hot Oct.”
Last song. Not sure what he’s singing. Very deep tone. Fire crackling. The same tonal atmosphere as the intro. I like how he brought it back to the beginning. Someone is talking, I’m not exactly sure what he’s saying. I have to play this album again when I am allowed to—likely a few more times—before I'm able to really understand the overarching message/theme. Everything just came to a tranquil halt. We're moving toward dreaminess. I like the added suspense. Did the album just end? Yeah, I think so. Just the crackling of a fire.
Final (First Listen) Thoughts on Flying Lotus' Flamagra:
I have no idea what Flamagra is about, but I liked the album. I'm wasn't able to fully understand the significance of every song as individual and separate pieces, but together, all the moving parts successfully created a cinematic dreamscape. It’s a different world, a journey of an album.
Sonically, Flamagra is perfectly in sync with the temperament of our forthcoming summer season. On first listen, the album feels like Flying Lotus at his most warm and funk-inspired. Infectious bounce and sneaky grooves peak around unexpected corners, but the album lacks the glow of paradise; Flamagra is more like a haunted vacation purgatory, or a spiritual theme park built on a graveyard. I'm clearly still absorbing and processing everything I heard.
The album's length is my only gripe. Trimming several records would help keep up the momentum, but even the slower stretch on the back-half maintains a captivating atmosphere. If nothing else, Flamagra demands patience.
Admittedly, Flying Lotus is a difficult artist to first listen. He doesn’t spell out what you’re hearing and challenges you to listen intently while journeying through all the intricacies. Flamagra, just like every Flying Lotus full-length album that came before it, is a body of work you'll be thinking about long after it comes to a close.
I know I’ll be thinking about Flamagra until at least September.
By Yoh aka Flamagyoh aka Yoh31.