It’s impossible to divorce Steven Ellison, a.k.a. Flying Lotus, from his native los Angeles, home to a wildly creative underground hiphop scene of singular artists who hybridize sounds beyond classification — Daedelus, Madlib, Georgia Anne Muldrow, and in his final years, the late J Dilla. Flying lotus’ promising 2006 debut, 1983, drew some criticism for mimicking the scene’s stylistic tropes, from half-speed beats to staccato chops of whining keyboard melodies. But on Los Angeles, he finally integrates those influences into a shockingly original voice.
Ellison’s tracks now teem with sonic references, as if he were leading an electronic orchestra. The result is an album that unleashes one brilliantly crafted devastating beat after another. “Melt!” merges African drums with whistling birds and shaking maracas. “Parisian Goldfish” melds silky electrohouse with B-boy high-hat percussion. “RobertaFlack” lays Dolly’s dazed jazz vocals over galactic lasers and opiate-slow trip hop. But “Golden Diva” is the most wondrous achievement, a breathtakingly ambitious ballad that bounces along like a classic car strutting on hydraulics.
Flying Lotus’ spaced-out visions are the album’s trump card, a computerized mesh of hip-hop beats at dub-like tempos. Los Angeles may sound familiar to keen listeners — parallels will be drawn to Burial and, of course, Dilla. But it’s a unique, holographic version. Ellison paints a portrait of L.A. culture that simultaneously prophesies its future sound.