One reason is that most of his recent music has leaned toward jazz, rather than the definitively bent and fractured take on hip-hop of his early classics Los Angeles (2008) and Cosmogramma (2010). Those albums certainly had jazz elements, but they were also produced, ostentatiously (and brilliantly) so. By contrast, the more recent Till the Quiet Comes (2012) and You’re Dead! (2014) are conspicuously played, not programmed. The same goes for the Thundercat albums the L.A. native, born Steven Ellison, has produced.
He’s also simply DJing less these days. Well, OK, he’s doing a lot of things less lately—You’re Dead! is the last thing he put out, three years ago now. When he plays First Avenue on Wednesday, November 15, he’ll be bringing a show called “Flying Lotus in 3D,” and while I’m curious about what I’ll see, I’m more so about what I might hear: Greatest hits, or a lot of new stuff? Hopefully it’s the latter.
Either way, it’s easy to understand why a guy might take a break from the decks. Like a fiction writer using essays or profiles to make headway for what they want to write, for many electronic musicians DJing is a means to an end, a way to get attention for the real work. In Flying Lotus’s case, record making was always clearly the point more than record spinning.
Nevertheless, as you might imagine from his dense, playful, and (yep) cosmic recordings, Flying Lotus’s DJ sessions run a similar gamut, and they have a similarly impish tinge. Take the note from Stones Throw, the L.A. hip-hop and soul label, when it posted FlyLo’s Stones Throw Podcast 66: Lovers Melt (May 16, 2011): “We’ve been talking with Lotus for a long while about a mix for the Stones Throw podcast,” went its website. “Here’s one he just sent over . . . no theme, no loops, just ‘records found in the valley.’”
“Lovers Melt” has become a series—four so far, the most recent a two-hour Apple Music-only set co-mixed with Beat Junkies co-founder J. Rocc. But the first one remains my favorite even though in some ways it’s the most tentative. It moves languidly between jazz, instrumental downtempo, and R&B slow jams, the same formula as the others only tighter, in large part because it’s also the shortest, at 32 minutes.
There’s a fuzzy-headed sense to these tracks, partly because it sounds like he really did find them in a valley, partly because they share a glowing-nimbus quality that unites them more than FlyLo’s segues and fades. The gauzy guitars and dappled echo of Bootsy’s Rubber Band’s strangely titled love song “What’s a Telephone Bill?” and the Sylvers’ melancholy teen soul “I’ll Never Be Ashamed” match up with unidentifiable-by-me synthesizer fantasias and Latin percussion blowouts and post-Coltrane sax skronk as species of otherworldliness. Any Flying Lotus fan would recognize it.
Flying Lotus in 3D
With: Seven Davis Jr and Pbdy
When: 7 p.m. Wed. Nov. 15
Where: First Avenue
Tickets: $30; more info here
Each Thursday, Michaelangelo Matos will spotlight a different DJ set—often but not always new, sometimes tied to a local show but not necessarily—and discuss its place in the overall sphere of dance music and pop.