By Colin McGowan | 16 May 2010
We’re living in an increasingly segmented culture. Various artistic platforms have come to resemble beehives, notched with little nodes in which a very specific audience’s tastes are satisfied: trust Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim to serve up campy, nightmarish satire for comedy nerds bred on the humor inherent in uncomfortable silences; count on Noah Baumbach to direct dry tragicomedies for ennui-suffering college grads; let Tim Schafer create wildly imaginative worlds and characters for arty gamers; leave Dead Fetus to the metalheads. These artists set out to make something for themselves, for their friends, for people they respect, never catering to some abstract idea of what’s accessible or popular. They’re uncompromising in creating something that will most likely alienate a majority of consumers, confident that some group of people, however minute, will find it and find value in its humor, or perspective, or execution, or something.
So what happens when art birthed from that defiant ethos succeeds, immediately and popularly, beyond any reasonable estimate? Fucking Cosmogramma. Flying Lotus’s third album meets some expectations—it sounds “spacey,” there are laser sounds, vocalists are obfuscated by muddy stardust—and then it completely obliterates others. Namely: lots of people like this record a lot. Cosmogramma sits atop Metacritic’s ratings list—right next to Broken Social Scene and the National. FlyLo is selling out shows, topping the iTunes charts, and soundtracking fly house parties across the nation. It’s fitting that the Flying Lotus hype machine has been set in motion by Cosmogramma because everything here is so kinetic. From the jump, “Clock Watcher” assaults us with some Space Invaders blips before acquiescing to descending harps before, um, is that a saw? Cosmogramma bursts with inventiveness; I’ve found myself careening around my apartment to sounds I don’t recognize as of this Earth. That Lotus takes these vibrant ideas and sets them to pulses that move asses is incredible. Apparently everyone else is bouncing along in agreement.
It’s not as if FlyLo’s ever been a niche artist, but he has long been filed under a genre heading most people consider alien and esoteric. While many of our staffers listen to electronic music in some capacity, only a handful of us write about it on a regular basis. Speaking authoritatively about the genre requires, from an outsider’s perspective, an intimate knowledge of discographies and histories many of us don’t have the time or energy to delve into appropriately. Like hip-hop or metal, electronic music is ostensibly an exclusive club around which non-members can only wander the peripheries.
Which: fuck all of that. Where we’re going, we don’t need genres. I imagine “Do the Astral Plane” readymade for Jupiter’s first nightclub, where one heterogeneous mass of people strip off silvery spacesuits and engage in a drug-fueled orgy that makes Woodstock look like a convent. It’s that sort of primal nerve Cosmogramma taps; I’m having visions off this shit. And so is our staff. The big, fat CR at the top intimates that—but still much of our love emanates from what a wondrous mish-mash of styles this album presents. Jack calls it “the most digestible FlyLo yet;” Clay thinks it’s a “genre-bridger.” Cosmogramma elides the sub-genres beneath the heading of “electronic music;” it elides the gap between soul, funk, and hip-hop, too. Call it Yorke-step. Or gaze-gaze. Or free-bap. A rose by any other name.
Not to suggest Flying Lotus has gone pop; that’s not accurate; this is perhaps the most outwardly weird and inscrutable batch of beats he’s ever produced. “Recoiled” sounds like a hippopotamus trying to fuck a 1950s soul quartet and “Zodiac Shit” is built on a deeply unnerving, lecherous exhale, but the individual chaos and bizarreness of these compositions’ components marry into a remarkably intricate, beautiful pastiche—instantly gratifying in a way not dissimilar to a Spoon riff or a Gucci Mane hook. FlyLo’s not building beats, he’s constructing complex architecture. Where Gucci or Spoon inject joy into their tracks via broad strokes (an ad-lib, an infectious guitar line), Lotus weaves myriad elements to create something that feels homogenous and complete. And then it pours over you and splinters, like a bucket of cold water. In this duality lies Cosmogramma‘s biggest achievement. It’s disconcerting that off-kilter drums and ping pong samples can construct grooves this intoxicating and immediate. Like a hammer made of toothpicks. This thing is gonna break your subwoofer and monopolize your headphones.
For real: Flying Lotus is about to get big. We might hear “Do the Astral Plane” on a car commercial in less than six months. You’re going to ask your friends if they want to go see a FlyLo show, and they’ll inform you they already bought tickets. Cosmogramma anticipates and seems prepared for that big-ness—through this record’s veins courses communion. In the same manner FlyLo joins the disparate elements of his compositions into a mystifying mélange, he draws listeners into his vision. Cosmogramma reimagines the sky as an Earth-sized tent under which we can all laugh, dance, kiss, dream, and coalesce. From one knob-twiddler’s phosphorescent medulla to the masses. It’s big like inclusiveness, big like planets, big like imagination.