The World Laughs With You: Flying Lotus' 'Cosmogramma' 10 Years On

The World Laughs With You: Flying Lotus' 'Cosmogramma' 10 Years On

Looking back on a masterful, complex album...

“I decided that if I was going to speak after that experience, it better be something honest, and deeper than a record that was just made for the times. I wanted to do something that made her proud. Something that could last forever, hopefully.”

The above quote is taken from an interview with LA Weekly, where Flying Lotus (real name Steven Ellison) is talking about the devastating and sudden passing of his mother on October 31, 2008 due to diabetes complications.

His response was to create the album ‘Cosmogramma’, which was released via Warp Records on May 3rd, 2010. 10 years after its release, it’s definitely a body of work to be proud of that still feels like it could last forever. For what must have been a very dark time for Ellison (his great-aunt and jazz musician Alice Coltrane had also passed away 21 months before his mother passed), out of that darkness came an intense, burning light.

In fact, FlyLo created his very own microcosm. The album’s title is inspired by Alice Coltrane as well, after FlyLo mistook the words “cosmic drama” for “cosmogramma” from listening to a recording of one of Coltrane’s discourses. “That word haunted me for a long time until I found out it actually exists. It refers to the study of the universe, and heaven and hell as well.”

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I first came across the album when I was studying at Northumbria University in Newcastle around 2010 or 2011, buying it on CD from Beatdown Records. I think I bought it at the same time as Machinedrum’s ‘Room(s)’, not knowing properly what either were, with little knowledge on both artists although I’d probably heard of Flying Lotus in some capacity.

‘Cosmogramma’ would prove to be a glitchy gateway album to electronic music for me. Right from the start, this album is a trip. Beginning with ‘Clock Catcher’, the notion of time goes right out the window. There’s 17 tracks, but the album is only 45 minutes long - pointing to how quickly tempos get switched up and tracks seamlessly shift. There isn’t a chance to get bored.

Compared to his earlier output, ‘Cosmogramma’ marks a noticeable change in production style. While electronic and digital elements still remain and are used to arrange songs, live performance is utilised heavily across live drums, bass, strings, harp, saxophone, trumpet and keyboard.

FlyLo also welcomes many collaborators to this project for vocals and live instrumentation, which helps in bringing the music to life. Thundercat features extensively providing bass on many tracks and some vocals, notably on the spaced out ‘MmmHmm’. Elsewhere there are contributions from Laura Darlington, Dorian Concept, Ravi Coltrane, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and Rebekah Raff among others.

This album is where Flying Lotus truly shows his jazz inclinations that are embedded in his family heritage, with tracks like the dreamy ‘Arkestry’ providing irrefutable proof of that. Previous album ‘Los Angeles’ is darker and while still experimental, it’s a more conventional hip-hop project - indeed, ‘Cosmogramma’ is much more freeform and conceptual in its ideas, style, and make-up. 

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The record also marks the first collaboration between FlyLo and Thom Yorke, with Yorke providing vocals on ‘…And The World Laughs With You’. They were introduced to each other by Mary Anne Hobbs, as she explains:

“It all happened on email. FlyLo told me that Thom would be his dream vocalist, so I reached out to Thom on email and made a case for the young Flying Lotus. Thom got in touch, FlyLo sent him a beat, and I think within 48 hours, maybe less, Thom had emailed a vocal part back to FlyLo. FlyLo was astounded, I do remember, at the time.”

The collaboration between Yorke and FlyLo is a standout moment of the album, with the Radiohead frontman imparting the following lyrics over an understated, delicate beat: “I need to know you’re out there, need to know you’re out there somewhere.” These lyrics are apt for Flying Lotus, who seems to be someone looking to answer questions about existence and goes on to address this on 2014 album ‘You’re Dead!’.

Thanks to Ellison’s maximalist production style and its multiple layers, the album is a rollercoaster assault on the senses. It feels like the producer has reached a spiritual accomplishment in crafting the record, pouring his heart and soul into it in the process. To find out that FlyLo was also inspired by lucid dreaming and out-of-body experiences for this “space opera” release makes a lot of sense too.

The fact it took Daddy Kev (of Low End Theory and Alpha Pup Records) four months to master it when it normally takes a few days comes as no surprise, either.

Lockdown is the perfect time to get reacquainted with the brilliance of Flying Lotus’ ‘Cosmogramma’.

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Flying Lotus will release new album 'Flamagra Instrumentals' on May 29th.

Words: Patrick Swift

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