Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma Review

18 Jul

Cosmogramma is striking, but only for a moment’s breath.

Cosmogramma radiates.  Each track on Flying Lotus’  third LP is dense, impenetrable, yet consumed by subtleties  — it’s like viewing cross-sections of Dante’s Inferno under a microscope.  With Cosmogramma, the LA-based producer tosses musique concrete, analog oscillators, claps and kicks, and orchestral oddities, into a blender and hits “frappe!”  The result is  a creamy concoction filled with big chunks of auditory edibles:  environmental noises such as industrial clanks, choo-ing steamboats and trains, even a bouncing ping-pong ball in “Table Tennis” are the framework of Cosmogramma, while hip-hop beats, pulsating analog synthesizers,  strings from pop music of long ago, and bizarre vocal samples provide the decor.  It is the soundtrack of a lonely astronaut, who slowly turns the dial on his broken transmitter only to hear random snippets of static, the space in between radio signals, sounds so foreign and strange yet resonate of home.  There is something refreshingly nostalgic about Lotus’ sound and it is this hybrid of the alien and the familiar that makes for repeated admires.

Along with Lotus’ diverse orchestration, Cosmogramma contains several noticeable guests:  Thom Yorke’s eerie coo-ing in “…And The World Laughs With You” and Squarepu- I mean, Thundercat’s bass rampage in “Pickled!” are among the noteworthy contributions.  Unlike most albums which showcase collaboration as frippery, Lotus remains humble to his featured guests: Rebekah Raff (Harry Partch, Ghostface Killer), Thundercat (Sa-Ra Collective), Ravi Coltrane (son of John Coltrane), and even Thom Yorke (Radiohead) are the gloss to Cosmogramma, yet no one would ever guess such talent graces the album’s 17 tracks without the CD-liner notes.  These additions are more transparent:  Raff gently sweeps harp arpeggios with a weaver’s dexterity on “Clock Catcher,” Thundercat abandons his virtuosic bass runs for a more passive approach on “Zodiac Shit,” Coltrane’s sax echoes off aimlessly in “Arkestry,” even Yorke’s single contribution, who is by far the most distinct guest on Cosmogramma, can be mindlessly missed.  Cosmogramma is not about who is bringing it to the table; rather it is about what is being brought to the table.

Yet despite the bottomless well of nuances, the over-arching structure of Cosmogramma seems unfinished.  There is no progression through the album, no soothing prelude that provokes an explosive finale, no latent epiphany that suddenly surfaces to the listener’s delight.  Lotus’ productions are fragments, perhaps to continue with the space metaphor, they are moon-stones that have fallen from a grander, communal source of cosmic awe.  These moon-stones are mysterious and captivating, but leave us wondering what is the birthplace of these miniature images?  Lotus never shows us — when he is done with one image, he simply moves on to the next.  To be fair, the stagnant discourse of Cosmogramma can be attributed to the brevity of the tracks: the majority fall under two minutes and only four tracks are longer than three minutes.  Instead of exploring space as the title “Cosmogramma” might suggest, Lotus opts out and leaves us stuck, much like our stranded astronaut, to contemplate the life-source of these minuscule glimpses.  Though at times the random, abrupt transitions from track to track can feel a bit unsatisfying, Cosmogramma is a good place to be stuck and subsequent listens reveal the infinite marvels Lotus has buried in his tracks.  Indeed Cosmogramma is striking, but only for a moment’s breath.

It is the soundtrack of a lonely astronaut suspended on the fringes of the milky way, who slowly turns the dial on his semi-broken transmitter only to hear random bursts of static — it appears these broadcasts were meant for nobody.
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