And so it begins. Kendrick Lamar consumed months of my listening life, two years ago. Now he’s about to drop his follow up to one of the greatest albums of the past decade, good kid, m.A.A.d. City. The first single is called i.
After hearing his collaboration with Flying Lotus on Never Catch Me, I was primed for more material. It’s been two years since his last album released, but only one year since the CD left constant rotation in my car. I probably listened to that album more than any other released in the past 5 years, in any genre. It’s not just a hip-hop landmark; it’s a colossus of popular music in general. Suffice it to say that my expectations are flying high.
“We got a young brother that stands for something! We got a young brother that believes in all of us! Brother Kendrick Lamar. He’s not a rapper, he’s a writer!”
An announcer opens the song with these words, before the inimitable guitar line of “That Lady” by the Isley Brothers leaps into action. Kendrick comes in with another fresh vocal inflection and the tune is off and running. Bouncy, bright, funky, psychedelic, energetic: it’s a bold proclamation that the young master is back in top form. I dig it. The song obliterated my fear of a sophomore slump in exactly 4:20.
Don’t take my word for it. You should already be listening.
The upcoming album is “soon” and has yet to be titled, so that’s all the information I’ve got today!
Just now, Flying Lotus dropped a second preview track for next month’s long anticipated album, You’re Dead! The song is titled Coronus, The Terminator, and you can listen right here:
After first single, Never Catch Me (featuring Kendrick Lamar) burst out of his studio, Flying Lotus’ longtime fans were both reassured of his musical wizardry and shaken by the first appearance of a full-on rap verse in his music. I’m smitten with the sound, a sort of hyperactive take on late 70’s psychedelic jazz marching to a stuttered hip-hop beat. Lamar’s vocals were suitably drenched in the alien atmosphere, the requisite Thundercat bass fireworks popped just right, and the ending shot off into that fuzzy space where Cosmogramma left off.
This time, a low slung beat eases us into a pool of languid falsetto funk vocals, splashing in phosphorescence. Thundercat’s presence is far more subtle here, dancing lightly around the wood-clap percussion. A traditionally “Flylo” shuffle beat materializes, driving an ascension toward the same astral plane he occupied on Mmhmm nearly 4 years ago. It’s a hermetic, relaxed little slice of space age spiritualism that works as a perfect foil to the frantic Never Catch Me.
This preview pair might give us a nice hint toward the full breadth and scope of You’re Dead! but I’m prepared for bigger surprises, come October 7. Check out the Flying Lotus – You’re Dead! page at Warp.net and make sure to watch the dizzying video preview below, featuring visuals from one of my current favorite Japanese artists, Shintaro Kago. Warning: sorta NSFW. (Second warning: may induce seizures)
You watched it right? This is the beginning of an autumn full of brilliant music.
This has been out over a week and the leak for half that, but tonight, alone, listening to the proper stream on NPR, my excitement is reborn. There are details, sharp edges and vocal snapshots bursting out at me, entire stretches brimming with instrumentation I haven’t noticed. I listened to the leak ten times and haven’t heard the album like this. My thought confirmed: the vinyl leak is muffled, distant and compressed sounding. Everything’s in there, buried then rendered in high fidelity. I kept wanting to lean inward and focus on the elements I knew were inside. It’s a treat to know that what I’ll be receiving in a couple weeks is even better than what fans have been going nuts over.
I had nearly forgotten: this is one of my favorite things ever.
Or at least the past year.
In late 2010 this clip from a July 23 concert in Los Angeles was posted and I realized how much of an incredible force of nature Miguel Atwood-Ferguson is. Flying Lotus fans know him as the guy providing the string arrangements in the legendary album Cosmogramma, while those more familiar with J Dilla probably smile at the thought of his work as headliner of the Timeless: Suite For Ma Dukes album, a sweeping orchestral take on the late James Yancey’s productions. This 13 minute alchemic beast weaves a stargazing intro from the former into one of the sparkling highlights of the latter’s final statement, the Ruff Draft EP, into an uplifting, hard charging masterpiece.
Truly an all star production, this band includes none other than Flying Lotus himself, Thundercat (best known for 2011’s Golden Age of the Apocalypse and making Cosmogramma jump like frogs in a dynamite pond), Rebekah Raff (another Flylo alum, she of the Alice Coltrane-worthy harp ethereality) and a full set of accomplished musicians I’ll list below.
Flying Lotus (laptop)
Miguel Atwood-Ferguson (violin)
Evan Francis (flute)
Dontae Winslow (trumpet)
Joey Dosik (alto sax)
Kamasi Washington (tenor sax)
Garrett Smith (trombone)
Rebekah Raff (harp)
Marcel Camargo (guitar)
Brandon Coleman (keys)
Stephen ‘Thundercat’ Bruner (bass)
Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave (drums)
Nikki Campbell (percussion)
I’m just hoping this hints, if not at Flying Lotus‘ next album (which will be announced at Coachella) perhaps a collaborative effort or even a full length release from this Ensemble itself.
In this first post of 2012 I proudly present my unabashedly belated yet wholeheartedly enthusiastic response to a slice of sound that has not only dominated my listening time for months but brightened my outlook for an important piece of the future of music.
Black Up is one of the best hiphop albums I’ve heard all year (the year being 2011 but it doesn’t matter), possibly longer. I slept on this at first, honestly, because the name just seemed too hipster, too pitchfork, too much. I pictured a thousand chillwave and witch house bands lined up behind triangles and crosses, a sea of stoned faces, limpid whitewashed guitar and anonymous lazy beats. I pictured nothing interesting or worthy of my time, much less my money. I did not picture something this fucking good.
When most people think of a hiphop artist the vocals come first: style, cadence, and timbre to subject matter and storytelling. The sheer blunt force of the words themselves, inseparable from voice, embodies a delivery system of surface and substance. Crushing the underground binary of either transcending or subverting this natural order, Shabazz Palaces blow hair back with pointillistic dexterity and canny substance while folding the vocals into the dreamlike puzzle box instrumentation itself. Beatific slides like “It’s a feeling, it’s a feeling!” and “Clear some space out, so we can space out” are amplified by the very way they emerge through cloudbusting moments of clarity in the mix. The production is the most intricate and interesting I’ve heard in an impossible stretch of time. Huge and futuristic and swarming like Cannibal Ox (one of my all time favorites) but delicate and minimal in places, sometimes in the same song. Relentlessly kaleidoscopic on a track-to-track basis like Madvillain and equally playful. Taking each second as an opportunity for left turns, trap doors, and extraterrestrial launches like the best Flying Lotus material. I’m uncomfortable reducing this experience to references but they help paint a picture. Thrilling, gorgeous, head nodding and hypnotizing, worthy on its own as pure sound yet never subsuming the oft-poignant vocals, the meaning of Black Up is delivered fresh and phonetic, kinetic, poetic. I sink deeper, hearing more each time. Romantic, political, angry, meditative, militant, optimistic, futuristic, this blurs free-association and laser focus in the same moment, words and sounds in the same experience.
The duo of Ishmael Butler, of classic conscious/jazz-hop group Digable Planets (listen if you possess even a passing interest in A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde, or Del La Soul; they’re probably better) and multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire (of whom I’ll be honest: I have no idea where he came from), is an alchemy I’ll forever thank Sub Pop (of all labels) for bringing to my ears.
My first favorite track.
Possibly the most direct distillation of the group’s ethos, with an outright nod to the original Digable Planets album in its ascendant coda.
The full album streaming free with visuals on youtube. Nice.
I should be so bold as to say that this is the equivalent of Disco Inferno (a longtime favorite of Optimistic Underground) for the hiphop galaxy. I don’t state this lightly. I also do not often insist so fully on a vinyl purchase but in this case I must spread the word on its inner beauty: the package does not resemble the semi-anonymous visual you’ve seen floating around the internet and the top of this post.
My Best of 2010 was basically an attempt to carve my musical experience of the past year down to its most essential, most ingrained elements. An attempt to sum up the music I feel had the largest impact on my listening, on my life.
I left out a lot of great albums. Thankfully, they were drawn from a text file kept on my desktop throughout the year, chronicling each album I decide, at a given moment, is awesome. Yes, it’s that simple. As time passes I remove the fleeting infatuations, anything not holding up. So I’m left with a solid list I can refer to in search of everything I really, truly enjoyed this year. This is it, in order I heard them.
Bullion – Say Goodbye To What EP
Four Tet – There Is Love In You
Arrington De Dionyso – Malaikat Dan Singa
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Kollaps Tradixionales
Autechre – Oversteps
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh
Ikonika – Contact Want Love Have
Take – Only Mountain
LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
Boris – Heavy Rock Hits Vol. 3
Connect_icut – Fourier’s Algorithm
Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
Rollo – 3
Yellow Swans – Going Places
Sightings – City of Straw
Guido – Anidea
Lorn – Nothing Else
Teebs & Jackhigh – Tropics EP
Infinite Body – Carve Out The Face Of My God
The-Dream – Love King
The Sight Below – It All Falls Apart
Deepchord Presents Echospace – Liumin
TOKiMONSTA – Midnight Menu
Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal 7″
Scuba – Triangulation
Sepalcure – Love Pressure EP
Imbogodom – The Metallic Year
Singing Statues – Outtakes EP
Flying Lotus – Patter + Grid World EP
Seefeel – Faults EP
Mark McGuire – Living With Yourself
Efdemin – Chicago
T++ – Wireless
Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner
Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
Balam Acab – See Birds EP
Gonjasufi – The Caliph’s Tea Party
VHS Head – Trademark Ribbons of Gold
Marcus Fjellström – Schattenspieler
Zach Hill – Face Tat
Games – That We Can Play
Zs – New Slaves
Fenn O’Berg – In Stereo
Richard Skelton – Landings
James Blake – Klavierwerke EP
Fursaxa – Mycorrhizae Realm
Dimlite – My Human Wears Acedia Shreds EP
Kurt Weisman – Orange
Clubroot – II MMX
So there it is. Something to remember is that any one of these albums may end up defining the year as much as the ‘true’ list – and that something I haven’t even heard yet may best them all. It’s happened before. This is why Optimistic Underground will soon post its first Music From Before 2010 But Discovered This Year list. This will cover the much wider range of music I was into this year, since there is already much more music out there than is being released at any given time.
[This post is subject to change. Like I'll probably add one or two more by January.]