In 2019 Flying Lotus (real name Stephen Ellison) released his sixth solo album ‘Flamagra’. Over the 27 track duration FlyLo collaborated with a who’s who of talent including Anderson .Paak, George Clinton, Little Dragon, Tierra Whack, Denzel Curry, David Lynch, Shabazz Palaces, Thundercat, Toro y Moi and Solange. The resulting album was an hour of forward thinking electronic hip-hop.
Despite all those ridiculous guest spots, though, it was not FlyLo’s most enjoyable album to date. Everything sounded amazing, and the production was pretty flawless, but it felt too safe and anodyne. There was no denying that the songs sounded amazing but overall, it was just, well, a bit dull. From the start of every song you knew how it would end. You knew that human error would not add any little surprises.
It also suffered for being too cluttered. The guest vocalists sometimes got in the way of the music. Fortunately, this has been rectified now as FloLo has released an instrumental version of ‘Flamagra’.
The first thing you notice about this instrumental album, on the other hand, is how cohesive it is. Before it felt to jumped around stylistically. The songs seemed to be created to fit in with the vocalists but here, in their absence, the album works a lot better. The songs now appear to have room to breathe. To move around unencumbered and most importantly to flex their muscles.
‘Yellow Belly’ has sinister overtones are now allowed to shine, which enhances the listening experience. Without Denzel Curry’s ‘Black Balloons Reprise’ the strings are allowed to take centre stage. They are slightly harrowing, but there is a playful element to it too. It is reminiscent of a Bernard Herman score for a Hitchcock film. They direct our attention, whilst playing on our collective love of a thrill. They are also incredibly dynamic. They appear to float up and down, while the beats remain grounded and static.
On ‘Actually Virtual’ we are given time to appreciate the main loop of the song. It is either something mechanical or a sample of horse’s hooves. Ultimately it does not matter, as it fits in perfectly with the heavy low-tempo beats that underpin it. On the original these were partially obscured by Ishmael Butler’s vocals. Here they can shine. In all their ramshackle beauty.
The main questions that is raised after listening to ‘Flamagra (Instrumental)’ is does this new version fix the problems of the original album? The album isn't as muddled as the original. Without the distraction of the vocals, the backing tracks now can shine. They are lithe affairs, backed by gargantuan beats and basslines. The album also feels more cohesive.
However, ‘Flamagra (Instrumental)’ still feels too safe in places. They sound too clean and are too pristine. I am not saying that everything needs to sound like it was recorded in a biscuit tin on a phone but, as with the original, overall, it does not explode from the speaker.
Saying that ‘Flamagra (Instrumental)’ is a far more enjoyable listen than the original and lends itself to repeat listens in a way the original did not. Hopefully Flying Lotus will keep it instrumental on his next release.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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