Flying Lotus produces tranquil assemblage of tracks in new album

By Benjamin Finn

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“Until the Quiet Comes” marks the fourth release from Flying Lotus (the stage name for Steven Ellison, the Los Angeles-based producer, programmer and all-around studio wizard), and much like its three successors, the album not only delivers upon increasingly high expectations, but also manages to utterly confound listeners.

His previous album, “Cosmogramma,” which was released in 2010, was a near-seamless blend of several styles of the electronic canon: Intelligent Dance Music (IDM), house, techno, acid and even traces of dubstep. Listening to it remains a vibrant experience; however, with so many different melodic ideas in play at once, it occasionally felt overly busy and claustrophobic.

Ellison’s compositions have continued to grow fuller and thicker with each album release. Surrounding this current release, there was much speculation as to how much more dizzying interplay one could handle.

Fortunately for us, Ellison has implemented a new instrument out of his sonic toolbox: space.

Now, this isn’t to say Ellison does not cram each track with several different ideas; each track here bares his ambitious, eclectic signature, but where Ellison used to display all elements of his compositions in plain fashion all at once, his work here is more transient and evolving.

Each component is considerably more loose and fluid, and when paired with this newfound vacancy, it works to his advantage. Every track ebbs and flows like a clear river, with all of his pieces coalescing into one rolling, quasi-jazz-electronic-funk ocean.

All of the intrinsic traits of a Flying Lotus track remain (skittering beats, disorienting sound effects, throbbing bass, warped samples), but beyond this sudden discovery of space, Ellison has introduced a few new gadgets into the mix.

On “All In” and “The Nightcaller,” an upright bass teams up with an off-kilter live kit. “Tiny Tortures” features a nimble, slinky guitar line reminiscent of something off of Radiohead’s latest album. “Putty Boy Strut” contains what sounds like babies cooing through a digital filter and effect pedal. “Only If You Wanna” sounds like a jazz band toying with sequencers.

Perhaps the most surprising factor of the record is the emphasis on bright synthesizers and distant, wispy vocals. Of course, as a Flying Lotus album, it remains largely instrumental, but the best moments on the record occur when these two elements either merge forces or take center stage.

On “Sultan’s Request,” massive waves of buzzing synthesizers and piercingly high frequencies steal the spotlight. That is, until the gargantuan bass comes in and dwarves all other sounds on the track. “me Yesterday//Corded” boasts a gorgeous atmosphere by way of filtered keys, dense pads and evocative background vocals. “See Thru to U” features guest vocals from Erykah Badu, and Ellison builds a lustful, jazzy environment around which Badu coos and hums her way out.

A majority of this open space is also rendered by Ellison’s noticeably more organic, loose production, which includes extensive use of reverb and tape delay. In particular, the trio of songs at the back end, which all feature guest vocals, thrill by way of their lucid, dreamlike nature.

“Electric Candyman” stars a ghostly Thom Yorke, who sounds like a wandering voice in the nighttime forest. “Hunger” and “Phantasm” both feature nocturnal beats and hazy, warm vocal performances from Niki Randa and Laura Darlington, respectively. Randa also charms in her other performance on the record, on the woozy “Getting There,” sounding similarly jazzy and wistful.

“Until the Quiet Comes” is also a blissfully appropriate title for the experience on display here. Unlike previous albums, which often conveyed a more industrial, mechanized approach to beat-making and production, here we have a predominantly more tranquil, nocturnal, and even “woodsy” album.

Ellison’s unique sensibilities have mostly been retained, and still appear quite abundantly; they are just augmented by lusher, more luxurious instrumentation, which ultimately makes for a more reserved, user-friendly record.

To those long-standing fans of Flying Lotus, you needn’t fret over losing the sumptuous beats and crazed experimentation, it’s all still here, the fine craft is just presented in a more evocative, accessible package.

Benjamin Finn can be reached at [email protected]