Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Top 10 Albums of 2008: #8

Flying Lotus
Los Angeles

Out of his sophomore album's namesake of Los Angeles, California comes number eight on the countdown: Flying Lotus. The little-known hip-hop producer has yet to truly break onto the scene like contemporaries J Dilla and Madlib, but you've probably heard more of his tracks than either of the other two. How? He's the uncredited creator of the vast majority of the Adult Swim segues played every night between episodes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force and The Venture Bros.

His sound is instantly recognizable for Adult Swim viewers, off-beat hand-drumming over bass drones, all produced with the fuzzy deterioration of ancient vinyl. The beats are messy and spastic, almost world music-esque with electronic sitar-like swells lending accents to the sexy grime of the low end. But don't let Flying Lotus' characterization fool you; Los Angeles is less a hip-hop album than it is a downbeat electro adventure. This is the album that pushed Dosh off my list this year, my own personal hero of electronica. Hip-hop only describes the speed and sway of the beats--there is no rapping or singing to get in the way of Lotus' production. Instead, the stars of the songs are the beats themselves, the solos the blipping electronics that peek through the mess.

Los Angeles, I would love to imagine, is truly the sound of the city. It is filthy and a little scary, leaving the listener in the dark of what might be around the next corner. I spent about ten minutes in Los Angeles this year, but got to see none of the downtown area that I'm told is exactly what I just described: a wasteland of empty, graffiti-covered buildings and gangs, especially after dark. I've tried to imagine the club where I'd expect to hear Flying Lotus spinning, but I don't think there is one in particular--this is music more fit for running through alleyways at midnight, trying to get away from some Crips that just gunned down your brother. As you run by neon-lit clubs and bars, you hear snippets of dance music, of people talking, but then you have to keep moving, and it's back to the frantic pace of your footsteps as you stumble into trash cans, hurdle over fences. By "Parisian Goldfish" (probably the album's most single-oriented song), you have slipped into a coke-head disco, trying to lose yourself among the crowd and the flashing lights, but you see the gang come through the back behind you, scanning the crowd, and as "Sleepy Dinosaur" begins, you're tripping over people's feet, trying to push your way out into the street again.

Maybe I'm taking the analogy a bit far, but Flying Lotus has not just presented us with another collection of singles, ready for MTV and Kiss-FM. This is a challenging record, daring to create an environment for us to enter into, not just a glossy song for us to mindlessly shake our asses to. Hip-hop could learn a lot from Lotus, and I hope that as people like him and Danger Mouse begin to crack the popular charts, the genre as a whole takes a well-needed step forward. Rappers say they rap about real life, murders and drugs and the streets; Flying Lotus recreates the streets through the art of sound and brings them to us unadultered. What is more real than that?

Flying Lotus - GNG BNG

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