Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Flying Lotus, Cosmogramma

Cosmogramma is  a collection of 17 tracks written, produced and engineered by Flying Lotus who specializes in experimental forms of hip hop.  The tracks are made up of layered samples combined with strings (Miguel Atwood Fergusen), bass (Thundercat) and harp (the stringed kind, Rebekah Raff).  Guest artists such as Ravi Coltrane (tenor sax) and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke (vocals, on ” . . . And the World Laughs with You” which he co-wrote) appear throughout.

Cosmogramma has received a lot of positive press because it is viewed as substantially different from standard hip hop fare.  Different it certainly is and Flying Lotus shows hip hop’s potential for expanding in new, unexpected and exciting directions.

For me, Cosmogramma falls short in two important ways.  The first is that it tends to come across as a collection of partially thought through ideas and fragments of ideas.  Seventeen tracks crammed into a bit less than 46 minutes doesn’t leave much time to develop much of anything in any given track.  An example is “Arkestry” which clocks in at 2:51.  The track is clearly intended to serve as a homage to Sun Ra’s Arkestra.  What a great idea, bringing the wild inventiveness of Sun Ra to a hip hop context.  Problem is, Flying Lotus does almost nothing with it.  The track will sound tame to listeners who are familiar with Sun Ra and Ravi Coltrane’s sax work on the song falls far short of the heights John Gilmore routinely scaled in the Arkestra.

My second problem with Cosmogramma is that it doesn’t sound very good.  It sounds bad in our main listening room which has good equipment carefully set up; it sounds worse over the unforgiving near field studio monitors + sub in my studio.  Flying Lotus has layered many, many samples and instrumental bits throughout these tracks and he does this very well.  The problem here is that music this dense cries out for a rich and detailed mix that ignores the current trend to master everything at max loudness in favor of a wide dynamic range so that the carefully layered bits have room to breathe and interact with each other.  That’s not what we have here.  I really like bass and sub bass frequencies but the bottom end in Cosmogramma is often way overdone and the rest is crushed.  The CD was mastered by Daddy Kev and when I first heard it I thought this guy is clueless.  Not so.  I later read that Daddy Kev submitted somewhere between 10 and 15 masters that were rejected by Flying Lotus.  Turns out Flying Lotus tested the masters by taking them out to his Toyota Corolla (which Daddy Kev referred to as one of the worst sound systems imaginable) and listening to them with the volume turned to max which, not surprisingly, producing a distorted mess.  And you wonder why so much contemporary music sounds like shit when played back through something other than car stereos or MP3 players.

If you listen to Cosmogramma 30 or 50 times I’d imagine you’d start to hear – or imagine – connections throughout the album.  But given that the whole things sounds bad and few tracks develop far enough to be interesting why would you want to?

“Arkestry” from Cosmogramma (yes, that’s how it ends, on the CD another track follows with no break.)

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06/04/2010 - Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , ,

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