Flying Lotus: Flamagra - Album Review

Flying Lotus’ latest is a disorganized mess of hits and duds.

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In 2004, Radiohead released one of their worst-received albums in Hail to the Thief; even for fans, it was overstuffed, and they bounced back three years later with the much-tighter In Rainbows. There is something to be said for artistic freedom, but with greater acclaim comes greater opportunity for indulgence. Hail to the Thief is not a bad record; it’s not even Radiohead’s worst, but it took too much time to say too little, and that’s exactly the problem with Flying Lotus’ latest album, Flamagra.

Guests remain the brightest points of Flying Lotus’ recent albums; pretty much everything since Cosmogramma, and with more features than ever, the 10 songs that get official credits could be the entire album. But there are 17 other tracks. Flamagra is Steven Ellison’s longest album by a mile, and if it seems like I’m mentioning that a lot it’s because the length is just unavoidable. Listening to Flamagra is like being on the cutting room floor of a 24-hour recording session; to hear every single idea brought to completion, while the best ones float to the top.

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Moments with Denzel Curry (“Black Balloons Reprise”) and David Lynch (“Fire is Coming”) are some of the highest points of FlyLo’s career. We now know what it’s like to hear a Flying Lotus beat dropped on David Lynch’s voice (an idea the man himself suggested), but Denzel Curry is inarguably the scene-stealer of Flamagra. His raw passion has never been on better display, and with guests higher in the foreground than ever before, FlyLo has a legitimate structure to work with on some of these songs. The same goes for Tierra Whack (who’s hilarious yet eerie verses in “Yellow Belly” only serve to further her greatness) and many of the other features: Anderson .Paak, George Clinton, Thundercat and Solange all appear to inject some much-needed form.

In the Ellison led bits, Flamagra is not without highlights. Closer “Hot Oct.” is a moody, piano-led capper to the pseudo-concept album about a never-ending fire that burns in LA. “Heroes” opens the record well enough, with shooting synths and a stuffed beat that recalls the jazz inflections of Cosmogramma, but unlike that record, Flamagra doesn’t have a balance. There are ultra low-key snippets guided solely by piano next to overstuffed bangers like “Takashi.” Moments like “Inside Your Home,” “Andromeda” and “Find Your Own Way Home” are beautiful, but occur far too often to retain any impact. “Fire is Coming” is sequenced at the center of the album as a sequitur, a soft transition that breaks the narrative of the album. Rather than capitalize on this and create a sequenced double album, Ellison mixes full tunes and fragments without much flow. It makes the album feel three times as long.

Between fascinating sound palettes like “The Climb” and “Land of Honey,” there are too many moments on Flamagra that feel repeated. Songs are either overstuffed or stripped completely, with the only balance coming from tracks including other artists. The ambition of Flamagra has yielded some of Ellison’s best songs, but at the cost of a record that is best listened to in pieces.