Cosmogramma proves itself to be as mind-meltingly boundless as a black hole.
Adam Kennedy 2010
Timing dictated that when Flying Lotus, aka 26-year-old Californian producer Steve Ellison, announced himself to the wider world with breakthrough 2008 opus Los Angeles, all manner of lazy pigeonholing followed with depressing predictability.
Lumped in with the post-dubstep crowd at a time when the wonky sub-genre was being liberally applied to any oddities, he garnered numerous additional comparisons to sadly departed hip hop boardsmith extraordinaire J Dilla. Such categorisations sat uneasily then, particularly on the former count. With Cosmogramma, its title inspired by a misheard exclamation from Ellison’s late jazz multi-instrumentalist aunt Alice Coltrane, he conspires to make a mockery of almost all parallels.
Dense, multi-layered and subtly orchestral to the point Ellison has dubbed it a “space opera”, exploring Cosmogramma approaches, sonically at least, attempts to unravel the fabric of the universe itself. The burbling intent of intro-length opener Clock Catcher bleeds into basstronica odyssey Pickled!, the latter driven by four-string sensation Thundercat’s finger-blurring fretwork, lending a manic tone that returns on Computer Face / Pure Being.
It can’t fail to demand immediate attention, an interesting foreteller for an album that notches the tempo up from any prior danger of lolloping into future hip hop soundscape territory. Even ...And the World Laughs With You, a much-vaunted collaboration with Radiohead’s ever-zeitgeist-riding leader Thom Yorke, zips along with relative alacrity. Cutting Yorke’s familiarly paranoid strains into disorientating shapes, Ellison creditably sidesteps elevating the results to feature song status, instead abusing the vocal samples as merely another instrument in the mix.
Handling the thick ropes of bass that form Cosmogramma’s sturdy spine, Thundercat’s most integral contribution arrives with Mmmhmm. A sweet soulful number executed at almost ballad pace, it certainly demonstrates that Ellison’s ear for the delicate is equally attuned, repeating the feat regularly during what follows.
Casual listeners beware: it’s going to take several months absorbing such a shape-shifting record to fully comprehend its scope. Because in constantly mutating just when you begin to pin it down, drawing everything around in before rearranging atoms before your very eyes, Cosmogramma proves itself time and time again as mind-meltingly boundless as a black hole.