It’s not every artist that tries to map the dimensions of the universe (the literal function of a cosmogram), so let’s consider Flying Lotus’ sprawling electronica essay Cosmogramma a unique item. Lotus, aka Steve Ellison, has been tilting towards such eloquence for a few years now. His 1983 and Los Angeles discs sketched out an synth ‘n’ sample realm that put a personal spin on dub-step drama while alluding to the rings around Saturn and the traffic snarls on the 405. Cosmogramma compounds all the surrealism that laced its predecessors, coming through like an unholy blend of Cluster, Spring Heel Jack, and Christian Marclay. Consider it the latest edition of Cali psychedelia.
Jazz fans are taking note because the music’s orchestral girth delivers a thrill that parallels free jazz’s expressionism. There’s no cacophony here – though he finds uses for dissonance, Lotus likes his dreamscapes to be a tad more tempered – but the labyrinth of textures and rhythmic implosions delivers a steady stream of peaks. The pastoral segments allude to the shimmering work of Ellison’s aunt, Alice Coltrane (as well as Pharoah Sanders’ “Astral Traveling”), and cousin Ravi Coltrane injects some narcotic tenor sax on “German Haircut” and “Arkestry.” But don’t expect a star turn. Ultimately his horn is just another part of the pastiche, like Thom Yorke’s recitations and the samples of Lotus’ late mother’s hospital respirator. He deems this headphone opus – one of 2010’s best - a space opera. Consider the pod bay doors open.