Available on: Warp LP
Flying Lotus’s new album, Until the Quiet Comes, hardly finds the Los Angeles-based producer at a difficult time in his career – his popularity is sky high, his booking fee presumably more than healthy, and even an album of cutting room floor detritus would send the Internet wild at this point – but it does capture him at an interesting point, musically. His last album, Cosmogramma, saw Lotus take the aesthetic that he’d helped to popularise – stoned slacker hip-hop, mostly instrumental with Dilla-indebted drums and a permanent squint from the sun in its eyes – and treat it like high art. Cosmogramma was effectively one long track, a rock opera of modern instrumental hip-hop (despite all the guitar on Rustie’s Glass Swords, Cosmo was definitely the prog record of the two) that aimed to align both sides of Lotus’s musical upbringing: the underground hip-hop of his peers and the space-jazz lineage of his family (Lotus is, famously, the great nephew of Alice Coltrane). For some, it worked, for others, it didn’t, but it would take a cold heart to criticise Lotus for taking a step back on Until the Quiet Comes.
Until the Quiet Comes bears more semblance to hip-hop than it does jazz, though it’s delivered with the sort of fantastical approach that makes one suspect Lotus allowed himself to daydream, as opposed to the more studious and – for want of a less dramatic word – torturous feel that Cosmogramma gave off. Early track ‘Getting There’ is coated in sprinkles of gold dust, while the subsequent ‘Until the Colours Came’ feels like being submerged into a pink, warm lagoon, bubbles carried away by the wind. Combined with the strutting opener ‘All In’, the album’s first 10 minutes prepare you for one of 2012’s prettiest records – there’s not a lot here that will necessarily stick in your head, but its ability to carry you away while it’s on is something else.
Unfortunately, for me at least, Until the Quiet Comes doesn’t carry on in this vein. Since his second album (and still, for me, his best) Los Angeles, there’s been a tendency for Lotus to get a little too fiddly with his tracks – you get the impression he finds it hard to leave them alone, and the results can be a little on the IDM side of things (most noticeable on 2010’s Pattern Grid World EP). ‘Tiny Tortures’’s metronome-esque percussion just becomes annoying, while you can’t help thinking that the teary piano on ‘All the Secrets’ might benefit from more space and less emphasis on the restless drums. The twee ‘Putty Boy Strut’ would have seemed too cutesy on an RJD2 album in 2002, let alone anything released in 2012, and although ‘Sultan’s Request’ isn’t a bad track on its own terms, its jarring square wave bassline feels at odds with the way that the rest of the album flows up to that point.
Until the Quiet Comes’ second half features more on the squelchy, staggered instrumental hip-hop that Lotus made his name through (‘The Nightcaller’, ‘Me Yesterday//Corded’, ‘Dream To Me’), though with a little more richness and moisture than Los Angeles’ drier, sun-baked textures. It rarely sounds spectacular, but it’s easy to wonder whether this is Lotus’s fault: he clearly still does this style better than 99% of his peers – or supposed peers – but those splattered synth notes and shuffling off-beat drums have becomes so standardised, by those copying Lotus and others, that it’s hard to get excited about, even when a track like ‘Me Yesterday’ really takes off. In between these tracks are more distant, haunted, and yes, quieter moments: ‘Only if you Wanna’ wraps breezy jazz licks around translucent snares, while Thom Yorke – someone who, let’s face it, could have been a grating presence on Until the Quiet Comes – doesn’t sound like himself at all on ‘Electric Candyman’, buried under a woodpile of drum hits. But again, the results, gorgeous at times though they are, are rarely memorable, and feel more distant and less enveloping than similar tracks at the album’s opening (‘Getting There’, ‘Until the Colours Came’).
That’s the issue with Until the Quiet Comes – there’s no doubt that this a good record, and although it’s unmistakably the sound of Flying Lotus having fun, the meticulously detailed layers of its more complex tracks are incredibly impressive. But for an album that, at times, is beautiful, it doesn’t hypnotise you, it doesn’t entrance you, and even its best moments fail to stay in your head – I’ve been listening to it for the best part of a fortnight, and bar the Erykah Badu-featuring ‘See Thru to U’, I could barely hum you a single melody. I can’t help suspecting that if it wasn’t made by Flying Lotus, its reviews wouldn’t be so overwhelmingly fawning.