Released back in another dimension (2008), Flying Lotus’s debut album garnered massive attention as the blossoming electronic beat scene hit its stride. With the rare 5/5 review for Resident Advisor to an 8.5 on Pitchfork, Los Angeles saw Flying Lotus change the grade curve… yet to be surpassed to this day. Hip-hop is built on faded, scratchy source material. Over time those sounds burrowed their way underground to crop up in IDM, dubstep, and indie hip-hop resulting in textured music built around more than bass or treble. This shit was rugged at birth.
Los Angeles mix of crunchy beats was at once familiar, creating a crossover appeal linking Dubstep, Post Garage, and Avante Garde Electronic shit that was at the time, having its parameters blown to smithereens by Hyper Dub, Hot Flush, Hex, Warp, Ninja Tune, Lucky Me et al. And Brain Feeder (if you haven’t heard of it get Googling boi’s/gurl’s… this guy started the label on the back of the success of this fine album). FlyLo gifted a different kind of mysticism to the scene, sampladelic fuzz guitars met totes big drums breaks damaging the foundations of Hip Hop, Jazz, RnB and Electronica collectively, crumbling together to reveal the new. Featuring truly jaw-dropping collabs the mixtape approach melted convention. Filled with static, a nuisance to audiophiles and weakness in radio. But rather than audio damage or interference, this deceptively entrancing record feels like nature; Ellison went out of his way to digitize and filter the sound of rain hitting a sidewalk to accompany the beats and that feels comforting in this setting.
The static and hiss, of course, is just a single (crucial) ingredient but what this album specifically relies on is a reaction between crackle, buzz and rhythm. In Ellison’s hands, these elements are confidently odd where lesser minds would have seen results overly derivative, revealing a deep affinity for psychedelic lushness and distortion that puts him in his own class. Los Angeles stands as a magnum opus, even as it enters its teens it’s hard to listen and not be struck by the album’s enduring freshness. It sounds less like an album built on damaged, beat-up, pre-existing vinyl loops than a clean, shiny new LP put through four decades’ worth of wear and mishandling before release.
Los Angeles is also prone to letting its beats hang loosely, and that’s fucken doap. Ellison slips empty space inside the rhythm (another ‘splace’ for the ambient static), and when the tempo accelerates to drive the cavernous bass, nothing is hectic or jarring. At its most stirring moments, the music is soothingly meditative, though the booming low-end, sharp drums, and all that crackle and fuzz keep it far from polite.
With an accomplished fusion of debris and warmth positioned somewhere between b-boy head-nod and laptopper experimentalism, Los Angeles is an album well worth revisiting. Out of static, texture, and rhythm a meditative fusion of assured hubris, warmth, and b-boy head-nod experimentalism etches into your noggin. Together with samples, live instruments and just the right amount haze a truly classic hip-hop album was crafted. No one to this day has captured the drenched sound of L.A. quite like FlyLo, that’s why this album deserves a permanent spot on your Kallax shelving.
This is Digital Digger wet dream goop…