Veteran DJ/producer/artist/rapper Flying Lotus operates in a sort of netherworld between electronic, hip-hop, jazz and funk, without being particularly anchored in any earthly genre. He’s signed to the electronic label Warp, is the nephew of jazz great Alice Coltrane and the grandson of Marilyn MacLeod (cowriter of Diana Ross’ hit “Love Hangover”), and has worked with rappers like Mac Miller, Chance the Rapper and most prominently Kendrick Lamar on his jazz-inflected 2015 album “To Pimp a Butterfly.”
While a relatively niche artist, in the five years since he’s released an album, he’s also headlined the Hollywood Bowl twice, worked with saxist Kamasi Washington and bassist Thundercat on releases for his influential Brainfeeder label, and been nominated for two Grammys (a rare combination of Best Dance Recording for his song “Never Catch Me,” and Album of the Year for his producer credits on “To Pimp a Butterfly”).
Many of his past recordings were dense and daunting, but after five albums, a dozen years and countless collaborations and stray songs, Ellion’s vision has truly snapped into focus with his newest full-length, “Flamagra.” A sprawling, ambitious and occasionally disorienting work, it combines most of the above into a surprisingly coherent whole that’s framed with deliberately Funkadelic-referencing, slowed-down vocal passages at the beginning and end. Legendary P-Funk founder George Clinton makes a guest appearance, along with Solange, Anderson .Paak, Tierra Whack, Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon, Denzel Curry, Ishmael Butler of Shabazz Palaces, Toro y Moi and Thundercat; filmmaker David Lynch even pops up for an eerie narration on “Fire Is Coming.”
Heady as all of that may seem, the album’s sound is primarily a mix of vintage and future funk. Recalling classics by Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, Earth Wind & Fire and Roy Ayers as well as Funkadelic’s jazzier moments, the album is loaded with buzzing clavinets and electric pianos, blurping bass and zooming synthesizers (the instrumental “All Spies” even recalls Daft Punk’s ‘70s-channelling “Random Access Memories”), while the beats and production are largely contemporary.
With such a lineup of guests, the vocals inevitably run the gamut. Paak and Clinton are distinctive and instantly recognizable; Tierra Whack comes crashing into “Yellow Belly” with some comically obnoxious verses like a dayglo cartoon into a surrealist painting, while on “Black Balloons” Denzel Curry serves up verses that sound time-warped from the mid-1990s.
Conversely, Solange brings some multi-layered, old-school soul to “Land of Honey,” which sounds like it could have been a song on either of her last two albums. And Ellison’s friend and collaborator gets a pair of instrumental tributes on the album, “Find Your Own Way Home” and “Thank U Malcolm.”
The album’s bio describes it as “an astral afro-futurist masterpiece of deep soul, cosmic dust, and startling originality,” and we honestly can’t top that as a kicker.