Friday, February 12, 2010

Recovering in Los Angeles with Flying Lotus

In my younger days, when I could go to dance parties without a total loss of dignity, I was intrigued by the whole concept of “recovery parties”. I imagined that they would be quiet little things, where people sat around in cool, dimmed, well-aired rooms on nice comfy lounges, sipping orange juice, chatting about nice gentle things, maybe with a little bit of Enya in the background.

Of course, they were the absolute opposite – they were crammed, hot venues, where people looked as tragic as they felt; with drag queen make-up running from bleary, dilated eyes down surly, smoke-stained faces; body hair already poking through unclad torsos that were at least ten years older now than they were five hours earlier; the smell of beer, already stale before it was poured, wafting amongst the pong of every imaginable, and unimaginable, bodily fluid; and, of course, music, just as loud, just as raucous, just as far removed from the whole concept of “recovery” as the head-banging (for me) hardcore (for me) stuff that had already destroyed everyone’s eardrums the night before.

Well, at least that’s how the music seemed to me back then, back in those days when anything that wasn’t written by Wagner or Mahler all sounded the same. In fact, though, I now have no idea what music they played at those “recovery” parties, but if I was organising one today, the first album that I would reach for would undoubtedly be Los Angeles, the 2008 release from Steve Ellison – better known, at least to his record-buying followers, if not to his Great-Aunt Alice Coltrane, as Flying Lotus.

As soon as Los Angeles begins, with its crackles and pops of old vinyl, and its pulsating chords in big soothing harmonies, you find yourself slowing down. And it’s an album that somehow manages to keep you there, even when its pace becomes more frenetic, and its sounds and textures more eccentric. The music’s electronic swirls and flows and bubbles and squeaks create a wonderful fresh, chilled ambience, held together by beats that seem to be built from bits of South America and bits of Africa, soothed and smoothed by cool air, and a cold cocktail, mixed just right. It’s like you are swimming on an ocean floor, where strange, exotic creatures and colours abound, sliding and slithering around you.

Throughout the album, there’s a nice mix of sounds. The pitch slides or jumps from one note to the next with an ease that belies the originality of the music – music where all that’s conventional in tonality and harmony seems to have been long since forgotten, and instead a hypnotic dreamworld, where everything is strange, and yet all of it has its own inner sense and logic, has sprung to life.

The music blends effortlessly from track to track, taking you on a musical panorama that spans from the gurgling effervescence of ‘Breathe. Something/Stellar Star’, where something like random handclaps are scattered amongst a cool, sliding fizz of electronica, through the plodding tread of ‘Camel’, with its exotic metallic sounds against a soft, subdued harmonic hush; and the tribal vibrancy of ‘Hot’ where sounds pound and throb in a kaleidoscope of primal electricity, as if Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps has been remixed for a laser show on a stage where people dance with one foot in the future and one in prehistory. There’s the smooth shake of ‘Parisian Goldfish’, swimming around an energetic tin can sort of beat; the breezy, distant reverie, like a song interwoven with gangly electronic tentacles, in ‘RobertaFlack’; and ultimately the quiet, childlike hum of ‘Auntie’s Lock/Infinitum’, where the music puts its feet up, and quietly goes to sleep.

Even now, well into my musical renaissance, I don’t know a lot about dance music, but I know enough to know how alive with originality Los Angeles is, how hypnotic its sounds are, and how its rhythms and endlessly, but seamlessly, changing colours and textures have a strange ability to energise you and to calm you at the same time. This really is music to recover to.

Discovered over the Polyester Records sound system one day, not long ago, when I really went into the shop to buy something else entirely.

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