Review: Flying Lotus – Flamagra

I know it seems like every time I talk about a specific artist, Adult Swim is somewhere in the mix… and it’s no different this time. While his last album You’re Dead was 5 years ago, Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus doesn’t slouch around, as he’s been keeping busy with projects like producing a track on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (“Wesley’s Theory” alongside Thundercat, Sounwave & Flippa) and founding his Brainfeeder film division with Kuso (his directorial debut with some wild reactions to it). He even started to get involved in the anime industry, working on projects alongside famed anime director Shinichiro Watanabe with the short film Blade Runner Blackout 2022 (a tie-in to the film Blade Runner 2049) and currently working alongside Thundercat and various other musicians on the soundtrack to his current anime series, Carole & Tuesday. Since that’s on Netflix, we have to wait until a U.S streaming date (Seriously, Netflix, you have no idea how much I want to watch that show).

But we do have some great news. FlyLo has finally dropped a new record with Flamagra: his 6th studio album and 5th under Warp Records (yes he founded Brainfeeder, but he still releases projects under Warp). Anticipation started with the first official single “Fire is Coming,” featuring spoken word by auteur director David Lynch, and the revelation of other features that sound like what would be on my best-of list with Anderson. Paak, Little Dragon, Denzel Curry, Shabazz Palaces, Thundercat, and George Clinton. I was definitely hyped for this one and was already considering it one of my favorite 2019 albums.

So, how did Flamagra come out?

Remember when I said the first single was “Fire is Coming?” Well technically it isn’t considering that the first two tracks, “Heroes” and “Post Requisite,” were released first in different venues, with the former being the finale single of the 2017-18 Adult Swim Singles Program and the latter being on the soundtrack to Kuso.  “Heroes” had the Dragonball sound effects and dialogue with this warbly production, and “Post Requisite” is that familiar FlyLo sound with its cosmic, futuristic tone and clashing cymbal jazz touches.

“More” is easily the MVP track of the album with its funky, soulful hip-hop vibes that’s reminiscent of what you hear from Nujabes or Madlib, and of course the vocal stylings of Anderson Paak do wonders on here. Another rapping highlight is the one and only Denzel Curry on “Black Balloons Reprise,” a follow-up song to his own track on TABOO last year.

Let’s connect from mind to mind
Lies are on the rise, increasin’, bigger size
Hard to victimize when evil’s idolized
Inside my battered mind, I have visions of bein’ broke
A broken man writin’ words of wisdom inside these notes

Shattered and lost, chatterin’ talk, blabberin’ off
Grabbin’ the cross, telling Jesús nothing matters at all, ugh
The black balloon floats, the black balloon flies
The black balloon pops, the black balloon dies

To get into a funkier, groovy mood, “Burning Down The House” features George Clinton and has that G-Funk flavor in spades, and for more of a sensual, smooth feel, there’s the song “Spontaneous” featuring Little Dragon. Once again, Yukimi Nagano’s beautiful vocals increase my love of this track.

If I go crazy
Don’t save me
Well, baby
Just mix up a potion for two

Don’t you wanna test my love?
Don’t you wanna test my love?
Don’t you?
Don’t you wanna rest, my love?
Don’t you wanna rest, my love?
Don’t you, love?

“Yellow Belly,” featuring Tierra Whack, is one weird-ass track from front to back with this trippy, spacey production and the vocal pitch shift changes in between, along with these bizarre-ass lyrics.

In the sky, I’m so high, everyone looks up to me
You a virgin, you could not compete (I put my titties in his face)
(Titties in his face)
(He’s got titties in his face)
Titties in his face
(I’ve got to mob him)

Now I should’ve mention this earlier, but there are 27 tracks here culminating in a 67 minute run time, and of course, the question there is if the length is a deal breaker, and… not really. I do feel the length around halfway into the album, not from album fatigue mind you, but more of checking what track is next. Some tracks, mostly some instrumental tracks have the length of an anime OP and/or ED credit sequence with some degree of overlap, but the one track with a feature that clocks in at approximately 2 minutes is the one with Shabazz Palaces, “Actually Virtual, ” which I heard was part of the WOKE sessions they did with him a few years back. While I wish it was longer, the track was still enjoyable with the usual cadence of a Shabazz Palaces song, as in I’m not going to attempt to decipher what they’re saying. I do wish we get to hear more of those WOKE sessions in the future.

“The Climb,” with Thundercat on vocals, is an uplifting song about how when the going gets tough and you get scared, you just got to climb anyway. Yeah, that whole thing may seem typical, but it’s also a beautiful-sounding song with his vocals and lyrics:

Live, laugh, learn, don’t die, when you fly
Fly high
Live, laugh, learn, don’t die, when you fly
Fly high, fly high

The last few songs with features are Toro Y Moi’s “9 Carrots” with that jazzy/electronic fusion, and there’s “Land of Honey” with Solange that brings the signature sound we have been getting from her since her previous 2 albums.

As for the instrumentals, “Heroes in a Half-Shell” & “Capillaries” have a smooth delivery with some harmonization on the former and more of a groove on the latter, but “Pilgrim Side Eye” caught my eye from the moment it starts with its wonky and cartoony sound, and Herbie Hancock had a hand in this as well. “FF4” has got the lo-fi hip hop sound down, and hearing that FlyLo originally had this for Jay-Z, I could see him rapping on that beat. Of course, there’s “Thank U Malcolm,” dedicated to the late Mac Miller, and the slow build up to the beat is emotionally captivating, and “Hot Oct.” does end the album with a tranquil dreaminess, like a lullaby ending as you go to a peaceful sleep.

This album does make me think back and front about this as I do love it as a whole, but I did find the first half to have more standout tracks than the second half. However, that half does have some captivating moments in some key songs like the ones featuring Solange and Shabazz Palaces. The album has some psychedelic feels along with some jazzy moments and the weirder, experimental cuts as well. It’s also an album that you really got to have patience for, as it’s an hour’s worth of music but absolutely an hour worth diving into.

FINAL VERDICT: Fire has come and it burns so beautifully.

FLAMAGRA is available on Warp Records on CD, digital download, vinyl and streaming services.

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