Flying Lotus belongs to that group of artists from whom a new album marks a real event moment. As with artists like Radiohead, the Flaming Lips, Björk, Sufjan Stevens and even Kanye West a new album from Flying Lotus, real name Steven Ellison, tends to be a fascinating first listen regardless of whether you like him - you never quite know what to expect.
Cosmogramma was my favourite album of 2010 (review here). Whilst Flying Lotus' previous albums demonstrated his production ability and creativity his third album was the one the blew everything out into widescreen, like some musical big bang moment. There were vocals from Thom Yorke, songs made of ping-pong matches, the jazz influences and that crazy bass playing from Thunderclap. Yet for all it's exploration it also hung together, a bohemian statement of everything-ness - consistent in that nothing was left out and no concept dwelled for too long.
In comparison Until The Quiet Comes feels strangely focused. It still takes in a lot of sounds and ideas but it doesn't reel from the same explosive sense that Cosmogramma did. Opening with the kind of J Dilla referencing sparkly instrumental hip-hop that he has been making for years, 'All In' is much less of a confrontational start than 'Clock Catcher' was on Cosmogramma. Where that album gradually bottomed out into increasingly jazzy, free form pieces, Until The Quiet Comes starts in a relatively welcoming fashion and then hits you with some of the least accessible moments Ellison has released on an album.
So after that clutch of jazzy tracks 'Tiny Tortures' starts a run of heavy-bassed, beat-lead pieces. These capture the Flying Lotus experimental production style and individually are no harder to penetrate than the most eccentric moments of Cosmogramma but here, all at once, it is a little too much, too soon. The yin to the opening four tracks' yang.
From there though we get the album we want. Erykah Badu's collaboration on the rhythmic 'See Thru To U' is arresting, her vocals providing almost the only melodic accompaniment to a cacophany of live rhythms, as she ad libs along with the bass line. Her vocals then open the title track that follows and it is Fying Lotus at his best - rhythms shifting in and out of phase, rapid samples and god knows what else.
Things go all cosmic jazz on shimmering 'The Nightcaller', only to have it all drop away and evolve into a low slung west coast hip-hop piece for the latter third. How Ellison figures out what defines a specific track is anyone's guess, because there are moments here where two sound like one and one could be three or more.
Flying Lotus also continues to do guest spots like no other. Thom Yorke is back once again and 'Electric Candyman' weaves juddering beats and ghostly spectral organ noises around the vocals in a way few would have the nerve to do. Laura Darlington is given the spotlight for 'Phantasm', it being one of the few moments where the music is sympathetic to any vocals, it seemingly floating around the singer whilst quivering, building the strength to step in. Darlington sings fittingly of being "lost in the machine".
That moment feels rather like the point of Until The Quiet Comes. This is an album that feels like a battle between the creator and the created - Ellison needing to get the music out as much as anything. Cosmogramma evolves fractal-like, naturally pushing out into new territories. Here the vision is narrowed in places and compartmentalised - still astonishing, but less other-worldly nonetheless.