Flying Lotus: Flamagra (Warp/Border)

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Debbie is Depressed
  Flying Lotus: Flamagra (Warp/Border)

Jazz composer/trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and his cheerleader Stanley Crouch often used to talk about how much “musical information” there was on certain albums.

You'd like to hear how they might interpret and decode this one by Flying Lotus aka Steven Ellison: Years in the making; a celebrity collision of guests including Thundercat, Anderson.Paak, George Clinton, Toro Y Moi and others; 27 tracks and . . .

However you cut it – and many of these are sliced so thin (a third of them 90 seconds or less) it's hard to imagine any further dissecting possible – there is a lot going on here.

What is interesting is how, quite often, the guests play against type: if you were expecting Clinton on Burning Down the House to deliver his thumping-funk then you'll be surprised by his disturbingly downbeat cameo on a piece which is cut across by odd voices and a sense of claustrophobia; similarly Anderson.Paak is pushed away from soul-pop r'n'b into a kind of a staccato brat-rap track with a haunting hook; although David Lynch's reading of Fire is Coming does locate him somewhere between Tom Waits' What's He Building in There? and an unresolved narrative which concludes with that title.

It fits the disconcerting mood of the album but . . .

Elsewhere there are pieces – to call them songs elevates them beyond their meagre running time and ideas – like Heroes in a Half Shell (77 seconds), the Herbie-like electro-funk of Pilgrim Side Eye (90 seconds) and string-enhanced soundscape of Find Your Own Way Home (100 seconds) which sound like little more than beautifully recorded ideas which run out of puff and/or direction.

Many of these sound like ideas in search of a context, like the 75 second violin piece Say Something.

But then there are more redeeming songs like Thundercat's soul-funk The Climb which references his Eighties jazz-fusion inclinations, the psychedelic disco-ballad 9 Carrots by Toro Y Moi, and the standout Debbie is Depressed where for a few minutes Mr Lotus steps right forward for a kind of brooding Prince-like production and ballad full of languid ennui.

Also among the best are the beats-minimalist Yellow Belly with rapper Tierra Whack and the similarly percussive-driven Actually Virtual with Shabazz Palaces, the latter just hitting its stride before its two minutes are up.

Solange gets one of the more fully realised pieces also with Land of Honey where quasi-ambient keyboards, voices and slashes of synths and effects provides a soundscape in which she sounds adrift.

If 27 tracks sounds like a lot to assimilate that is true, but largely because so much of this goes past in pocket-sized duration: the dramatic Thank You Malcolm is another 90 seconds of something which is neither especially evocative (we presume the MLK reference) nor memorable.

This is often dark stuff and in its sudden shifts you are certainly kept alert.

A tip then? Just let it play and tune in and out as you will when ideas, pieces, songs take your attention.

Next time round another one or two will emerge from the considerable “musical information” here.


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