During a masterclass in Toronto a few years ago, Steven Ellison produced a funky, mesmerizing beat before our dazzled eyes using only his limited beat-boxing skills, a pen, and his laptop recording software. He meant to prove how easy it was to produce great music using simple tools, but we came away stunned by how easy it was – for him.
At least then we sort of understood what Ellison was getting up to. Until The Quiet Comes, the Los Angeles beatmaker’s fourth album as Flying Lotus, can’t be filed next to his first three LPs in the bugged-out instrumental hip-hop section of your local record store. The late J Dilla’s influence on hip-hop is inescapable, and Flying Lotus’ wobbling bass and see-sawing, sandpaper-like drums certainly didn’t make any kind of clean getaway. Dilla wasn’t the only producer to shape the current wave of hip-hop/electronic instrumentalists – Timbaland, the Neptunes and Madlib continue to inspire – but Flying Lotus’s debt to his music was as obvious as a pimply teen trying to hide a crush.
Ellison hasn’t abandoned his roots, but he’s widened the lens through which he processes them. He wanted to be a filmmaker before he became part of the scene forming around Low End Theory, an L.A. club night, that is as important to this subgenre as CBGB’s was to punk. Until The Quiet Comes is cinematic in the obvious musical use of the word – all hissing, eerie, echoing voices, dreamy soundscapes and irregular throbs of bass that offer the jolt of a villain jumping out of a closet. But it also requires your attention, in a way that few other similarly-accessible records do. Flit in and out of the room while The Nightcaller plays and you might remember a bassline as firm and toned as a video vixen’s abs, but where will you be when you check back a minute later, as streaks of Niki Panda’s voice flare and vanish in the humid atmosphere of The Hunger , or when a brief choral ode to psychedelics, DMT Song , pops up like an elaborately composed parody commercial for a breakfast cereal? You might enjoy individual moments or textures, a snare pattern here, a jazzy interlude there, but unless you follow along intently, you can’t appreciate the grandeur of Flying Lotus’s vision.
In my mind’s eye, Until The Quiet Comes is a terrarium, an ecosystem in miniature where insectile hi-hats click-clack as they ride over smooth keyboard pads and into the gritty depths of Electric Candyman (featuring Radiohead’s Thom Yorke), emerging in the humid rainforest of See Thru To U , where Erykah Badu swings in on a vine.
It’s Flying Lotus’s world, in more ways than one – most of his collaborators are signed to, or have releases on, Ellison’s own record label, Brainfeeder, from jazz keyboardist Austin Peralta to fusion bassist and singer Thundercat to fellow beatsmith Samiyam. “I can take you to a world where you can spread your wings,” Thundercat sings on DMT Song. He must be addressing the audience, because Flying Lotus is already there, and he built it himself.
OTHER NEW RELEASES:
POP: Hannah Georgas
- Hannah Georgas
- Dine Alone
- Three and a half stars
Economy. The Vancouver-based junior-Feist sings as if seated strictly on a simple chair, without a twitch of wasted motion – she’s all mouth and eyes and vulnerability as electronic textures create a chilled aura around her. The singer-songwriter’s first album had a slight, charming girlishness to it, but this confessional pop has some years behind it. On Robotic she longs for life’s reset button, as if the Hewletts and the Packards could solve every problem. Enemies burbles and sweeps, about shark ways and buried emotions. One could listen to it all with just Georgas’s downy voice alone, her vocals being sublime, efficient transmissions from the susceptible. Brad Wheeler
ROOTS: Glad Rag Doll
- Diana Krall
- Four stars
Inspired by a stack of 78s, Diana Krall looks back to the ‘20s and ‘30s and discovers – rock ‘n’ roll? With T-Bone Burnett producing and a rock-oriented rhythm section in place of the usual jazzers, Glad Rag Doll treats its tunes as roots music rather than period fare, relying more on Marc Ribot’s amplified guitar snarl than the erudite wit of Krall’s piano. Even so, there’s a swing to the delivery that brings out the sparkle in You Know, I Know, Everything’s Made for Love and keeps Lonely Avenue from becoming just another blues stomp. Extra points for the cameo by “Howard Coward,” a.k.a. Elvis Costello. J.D. Considine
ROCK: Now For Plan A
- The Tragically Hip
- Three and a half stars
Yeah, I know, I know, they have been around a while. The Kingston-based Can-rock kingpins began long ago, when terracotta currency got you a beer and two quarters back. On its 12 th album, the band takes stock – looking all four ways at the crossroads – before pushing forward. Strongly. Opener At Transformation is classic-sounding, all heavy-riffed and cool wildness. The watery strum of Done and Done is set to a modern beat, with singer-lyricist Gord Downie crooning about days accomplished and wishes for “more of this.” Sarah Harmer and the bass line of Smashing Pumpkins’ 1979 guest on the title track, where Downie sings that nothing short of everything would be enough. The Hip won a Juno in 1990 as the year’s most promising group, but we haven’t heard them this promising in some time. Potent. Potential. Nothing short of everything, sure thing. B.W.
CLASSICAL: J. S. Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books I and II
- Andras Schiff, piano
- ECM New Series
- Three and a half stars
Every so often a pianist is hailed as the Bach interpreter on the piano. Roselyn Tureck, Glenn Gould and Angela Hewitt are notable among them, the latter two Canadians, but each pianist has dealt with touch, articulation, pedaling, and general style in different ways (and with the competing claims and not-infrequent disdain of the period instrument movement). Hungarian-born pianist Andras Schiff holds the current blue ribbon in Bach, and there’s plenty to like in his Well-Tempered Clavier . Tempos and affects are stylish, he doesn’t make a fetish out of a detached articulation, and he avoids the sentimentality and fussy dynamics that get in Hewitt’s way. Nor does Schiff blithely distort 18 th -century conventions à la Glenn Gould. We can also thank him for not being afraid of an agogic accent and for finding the drama in the chord progressions. Elissa Poole