There’s a moment in the teaser video for Flying Lotus’s new LP when you see a young inner-city kid wearing a shirt that says “J Dilla Changed My Life.” This is no doubt a personal allusion to FlyLo himself, who, like many in L.A.’s beat-making scene, can trace a bold line back to the producer—and hip-hop’s transformative nature in general. But Flying Lotus (a.k.a. Steven Ellison) can trace another bold line, this one to the Coltrane family, a distinction that never fails to be pointed out, even if what it means is harder to pin down. Until the Quiet Comes goes a long way to clearing that up.
Since the release of 1983 in 2006 and his subsequent signing to Warp Records two years later, Ellison has represented the vanguard act within a musical movement that meets at the crossroads of jazz, downtempo and hip-hop production. Cosmogramma from 2010 was a maelstrom of walking basslines, jittery booms and baps, synth chatter and non-linear vocal riffing. Until the Quiet Comes can be summed up similarly, but here, instead of attempting one-upmanship, the lanky producer dials back the overwrought density of his sound. Harnessing the jazz mastery that courses through his veins, he gives each component room to breathe.
The LP’s first tracks meld together like a minimal jazz suite, setting a tone for most of the record. A withdrawn guitar riffs over whispered drumbeats and pulsing bass tones on “Tiny Tortures,” and “Heave(n)” makes FlyLo’s off-kilter drums truly swing. Emphasizing he hasn’t lost his funkiness, “All In” puts both Ellison’s hip-hop prowess and jazz chops on display. Though less often than on albums past, his harder-edged proclivities take over entirely on tracks like “Putty Boy Strut,” which marries 8-bit chirps, juke handclaps and a lounge sheen.
Lead single “See Thru to U,” boasting Erykah Badu’s soulful wail, and the haunting “Electric Candyman,” featuring Thom Yorke, simultaneously push avant-garde jazz and hip-hop into a dreamlike future. Ellison is more comfortable in his role as a musical visionary here, assuredly carrying on the legacies he descends from. Until the Quiet Comes may live up to its name with a toned-down Flying Lotus, but it also confirms that he’s an artist we never want to fall silent.
Flying Lotus throws down at Metro on Tuesday 16.