Ben Grenrock has a tattoo of the Hollywood sign.
According to last week’s New York Times article covering the turmoil at their costal counterpart—Los Angeles’ own Times—L. A. is too big to function on a cultural level. It’s too diverse, too spread out, they say; a mess of variegated influences and identities oozing from metastasized micro-cities masquerading as whole.
Of course, L.A. is indeed quite expansive, fractured by traffic, and weighed down by the solipsism of its elites. But any Angeleno knows innately that the mélange of geographic and cultural modalities—so baffling to New Yorkers as they shiver past the artisanal barbershops and “health-bodegas” selling nine-dollar milk that were once a neighborhood called Williamsburg—is itself the culture of their city: a collective identity on a dizzying scale, so wide reaching and nuanced that it is near-impossible to conceptualize or quantify.
The Southland may have sprawled past the point of being able to police, or even track, its own culture. But that has allowed said culture the liberty to become all of its clichés, to become every antitheses to those clichés, and to become the myriad blips that fill in the spectrum. It flourishes in the inarticulable freedom and beauty born when opposites collide while retaining their integrity, birthing a weird symphony of possibility set to the rhythms of the collective, idling thrum of rush hour.
Time Flying Beats, the new record from L.A.-based producer Matthew McQueen—better known by his stage name, Matthewdavid—is a similarly chimeric composition. It flits from genre to genre like a glitched Pandora station, stuffing hip-hop, chill wave, drum and bass, footwork, and New Age ambience in the vein of artists like Laraaji, into a subwoofer choked with incense smoke.
As with his debut release, 2011’s Outmind, Time Flying Beats McQueen isn’t too concerned with blending his influences into some new sound that transcends the sum of its parts. Instead, he lets his components coexist as individuated organelles, stretching a vocal sample effected to sound like Washed Out right across drums descended from DJ Rashad on “Slippin’,” or, as is the case on dreamy “Yearns Out,” nestling the rolling hi hats of trap beneath swirling half-melodies that, were it not for the hip-hop drums, could pass for the musical accompaniment to a yoga class held on the International Space Station.
Yet, while the thematic transitions between tracks can be jarring, most of the individual songs on Time Flying Beats feel surprising cohesive, as does the album as a whole. Not every idea works—songs like “Contemporary” and “Into the Night Instrumental” meander without ever providing any emotional payoff—but for the most part each song is a rich, unraveling mystery.
“Lines and Lattice” sounds like stepping into an alternate universe where Flying Lotus invented G Funk behind the scarlet walls of the Forbidden City. The sample form Giorgio Moroder’s Midnight Express theme used on J Dilla’s “Phantom of Synths”—a beat that later became the crown jewel of DOOM’s Born Like This—is slowed to a nostalgic ooze, a perfect ambiance for the swarm of clicks and thuds McQueen sends whipping through it.
Though not a native Angeleno, McQueen’s music and career embody the variform identity of his adopted desert home. Shortly after moving to Los Angeles, McQueen carved himself a niche in the bedrock of L.A.’s beat scene, dropping Outmind on Brainfeeder; frequenting Daddy Kev’s church-of-bass, Low End Theory, as both a performer and devotee; and founding his own label, LEAVING Records.
Just as each song on Time Flying Beats feels like its own diverse community and the record itself feels like the megalopolis that unites them, McQueen’s curatorial tendencies at the helm of LEAVING Records muster the talents of diverse artists under one roof. The hefty blocks of producer Samiyam’s beats and Keifer’s jaunty keyboard-driven instrumentals bare the same “LEAVING Records” stamp as the delicate collages of Yialmelic Frequencies, which often sound not unpleasantly like pushing a wheelchair-bound Final Fantasy character through a curtain of Tibetan door-beads.
Despite all its eclectic gathering, Time Flying Beats is a return to McQueen’s beat scene roots. After Outmind, McQueen released a quasi-R&B record, followed by a string of albums comprised of little more than ambient vibes—perfect background for meditating on the dissolution of civic institutions and cultural heterozygosity, but not for much else. He continued to attend Low End Theory and he began attending “magic class” in the occult chaparral of Beachwood Canyon.
In many ways, he is made up of elements so different one might assume they’re by definition at odds with each other. But like most folks who fill their lungs with Los Angeles smog as they fill their bowls with health-appreciating superfoods, Matthewdavid and his music aren’t riddled with contradictions so much as they’re honest reflections of the human condition.
We fiend for novelty. We pick and choose our likes and dislikes by the needle of our own unique internal compass and hold them all in tenuous balance within ourselves. It doesn’t always come off perfectly, but the more diverse elements that coexist within a song, an album, a label, a person, or a city—at the very least—the more interesting it becomes. Time Flying Beats is more than just interesting; it’s fun, bold, pregnant with the possibility of discovery, and a return to form for an artist who represents his hometown simply by being himself.