There’s a moment in the new Flying Lotus album, “Until The Quiet Comes,” when all rhythm is ignored and the percussive jackhammering of a woodpecker is ushered in. At first, this deconstruction of beautiful melody may anger some listeners, but over time it becomes one of many examples of Flying Lotus mastermind Steven Ellison’s ability to intellectualize modern electronic jazz in a way that no one else can. “Until The Quiet Comes,” with its towering list of collaborations and gossamer artwork, is not nearly as gratifying as “Cosmogramma” or “Los Angeles,” but exists instead as a contained world of sound and musical influence.
As a title, “Until The Quiet Comes” has an important role in defining the meaning of its tracks. The title suggests urgency for silence, but also a curiosity for whatever comes before. The album, then, becomes the last word before the quiet comes, explaining its exquisite use of production, contrasting sound and silence equally.
“All In” and the sublime “Getting There” begin the album as chilled-out versions of previous Flying Lotus efforts, with ringing bells and stuttering beats. But the heavy, grungy bass that made previous tracks like “Do The Astral Plane” and “Parisian Goldfish” so compelling are swapped here for featherweight drums and, in the case of “Getting There,” floating guest vocals by Niki Randa. These effects push the track away from the dance floor and upward into the night sky.
The album is almost gaseous, escaping the ears as soon as it ends, requiring many listens before identifying standout moments. Ellison himself described the album as “a collage of musical states, dreams, sleeps and lullabies.” Tracks become a surrealistic blur that flow beautifully, often carried by one delicately programmed drum.
“Putty Boy Strut,” with its 8-bit production and Metronomy-inspired rhythm, ends with an upward sweeping string section that is devastatingly beautiful, giving way to “See Thru To U” featuring Erykah Badu. Badu’s voice is the least filtered of the album, full of soul and depth, counteracting the hand-clap beat and five-string bass that bop around her. Her collaboration is an example of Ellison’s stress on the whole rather than the single; “See Thru To U” flows seamlessly into the titular track that follows, not once becoming more than a minimal rhythm. This quiet beauty is the plausible direction that Ellison has taken the Flying Lotus project toward.
For those who stay informed and have been reading about the many collaborative tracks on the album for months, a sense of disappointment takes hold when, away from paper, the vocals of each collaborator are deep within the mix. For example, Thom Yorke’s presence on “Electric Candyman” is unidentifiable until the last minute, when Yorke is heard wailing miles away behind the fuzz of the track. In other places, Niki Randa and Laura Darlington become detached from their powerful voices, existing as otherworldly spirits that loom above and behind the instrumentation.
As frustrating as it is to feel underwhelmed by a Yorke or Badu contribution on any album, “Until The Quiet Comes” has an unusual interest in collaboration. Ellison attempts to disrupt our perception of the typical feature spot by clouding his guests in ethereal noise. This creates a more unified listen and keeps us from gravitating toward any particular moment of the album, instead viewing the piece from a bird’s eye view. From this view, the prestigious list of guests becomes abstract and weightless.
Thus, “Until The Quiet Comes” is on a different plane than Ellison’s previous releases. Like so many innovators before him, he has become tired of his own image and seems to be seeking to recreate himself through this tranquilized release. While it’s not nearly as energetic or dance ready as “Cosmogramma” or “Los Angeles,” it expresses a more artistic, conceptual vision: Flying Lotus asks us what we want from the music, and if and when we want the silence to come.