Chris Daly can sample the hell out of an autoharp.
The story goes that Miles Davis was attending some awards event, possibly hosted by Nancy Reagan, when he was asked, “And what is it you did to deserve to be here today?” Miles, being one of the coolest cats the world has ever seen, replied in his raspy voice, “Well, I changed the course of music five or six times. What did you do other than fuck the president?” While the legend has been debunked, it’s still a damn fine story that needs to be told. It’s also the type of conversation I imagine Steve Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, must have on a regular basis (though I’ll assume he’s not as risque with first ladies). FlyLo’s newest, Flamagra, is the latest example of the LA producer/beatsmith/filmmaker/
While the guiding metaphor for the album was a flame on a hill, the closest approximation I can make of listening to Flamagra is a late night drive through unknown lands listening exclusively to terrestrial radio, loosing and picking up signals intermittently. What was a rap station somehow morphed into a slow jazz storm before becoming a religious rant. Ellison spent the past five years working on this album, and the time spent cashes in on quality care. While the ride is all over the place, the route clearly was meticulously selected beforehand.
While this clearly is an album only FlyLo could create, it’s interesting to note that the collaborative pieces here are among the strongest. Sure, he’s worked with a lot of these folks before, sometimes producing entire albums on their behalf, but by focusing on single tracks, Ellison has removed any chaff and brought out the best in his performers. I’ve come to the realization that including any Anderson .Paak is going to make one’s album better, but “More,” with its mixture of rapping and singing, showcases the two geniuses (geniu?) at their slinkiest.
That TBD album Lotus and George Clinton have been working on for the past few years must have unlocked some special board between these two bosses, as “Burning Down the House” coaxes out not only some of George’s stronger vocals in a minute, but also showcases the always welcomed return of Sir Nose on the back end. Thundercat sounds looser and more relaxed on “The Climb” than he has since “Them Changes.” If that wasn’t enough, Ellison has fellow filmmaker David Lynch, spirit kin if ever the concept existed, reading a disturbing tale, “Fire Is Coming” that could be about infidelity or the end of the world. Either way, it’s spooky and fits perfectly here. Similar star turns by everyone from Little Dragon on the space trippy “Spontaneous” to Denzel Curry on the chilling “Black Balloons” to the clickety clackety oddness that is Shabazz Palaces on “Actually Virtual,” litter the album. It’s “Yellow Belly,” featuring Tierra Whack, however, that’s going to have the kids really squawking. This is the Captain Murphy track Ellison always wanted to make, and it’s the track that pop singers wanting to demonstrate street knowledge will spit semi-well on some future episode of Carpool Karaoke.