The Experienced Listener Presents: Pattern+Grid World, by Flying Lotus
So, in-between rapping, teaching, writing books, and otherwise saving the world, I sometimes find myself making instrumentals. And, at various intervals, when I create these beats, people will say to me, “That sounds like a video game.” What I never understood is… why the surprise. Let’s get something straight: I grew up in the 80’s. We played video games. Our music is not supposed to sound like the music of other generations. It’s supposed to sound like… video games. How does an 80’s baby not, from time to time, have elements of 80’s culture expressed in his craft? 80’s culture meaning, video games…
…Enter Flying Lotus *Insert Shaolin temple gong crash here*. I first hear the name while browsing EJ tha Witchdoctor’s MySpace, where I find the song Loud Pack. I click the link just because I like the title (I’m not a smoker, so I have no idea about the weed reference :-\). The first thing I hear is Witchdoctor hyping his track up over a radio frequency sweep sound effect. All of a sudden, “(BAzoooo) Dumm-dumm-dumm-diddy-dum-dum-dum-(BAzoooo)”. It feels like a mobile suit or a megadeus has just touched down— animeheads, ya’ll know what I’m tambout. Serious moment. So then this drum march begins and the beat progresses. Suddenly, there are these craaazy bottles clinking rhythmically along the instrumental. I’m hooked. Then comes the break, and these…distorted electric guitars come in, sounding like a million bees trying to keep a 747 in flight. Witchdoctor’s one of my favorite artists, but by that point it doesn’t even matter; from the beat alone, this kid Flying Lotus has got me.
But I can’t even call him a kid; like RapSody and myself, FlyLo is a product of 1983. He’s even got an album called 1983. To keep it contemporary, however, we’ll look at one of his more recent projects, Pattern + Grid World. It’s seven tracks of authentic, unabashed 80’s baby experience; if you’ve never owned an NES or Sega Genesis, you might not be able to extract the full significance from this project.
The EP begins with the track Clay. First off, Kool Kid confession: I’m a geek. Me and my homeboys play Marvel vs. Capcom 2 to this instrumental religiously. It’s just the crank-up at the beginning; by the time you’ve heard that, you already know what time it is and you’re ready to style on somebody. Then this strange synth kicks in that sounds like the beginning of an 8-bit video game about ghosts ‘n’ goblins (not that I’ve ever played Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins for the NES before, but I would hope that it sounds something like this). The rhythm is very jazz-oriented and might create fear in the typical hip-hop listener, definitely not the 1-2-3-4 that we’re used to. Surprisingly, behind all the spook, FlyLo lays down a very dope muted guitar; the guitar is what sold me because, being an ONP fan, I love my wah-wah and muted guitars and basses. The effect turns the song from a digital variety/horror picture show to a low-resolution wobble of funk. …Yes, if you can adapt to the rhythm, you will find some tail-shake in the mix.
Following Clay is the track Kill Your Coworkers. The title alone lets you know… something is wrong here. What that something is, however, is hard to say; the track is actually pretty cool. The tempo is a bit faster than the others on the EP; it has a somewhat drum-and-bass feel to it. It also brings the 8-bit video game sound to the forefront once again, but more intensely than on Clay. The more you analyze this track, the more you find things to love about it. One of my favorite parts is the electro-tom drum roll that FlyLo scatters in sporadic places throughout the track. There’s also a savage distorted guitar riff that appears a little bit more than halfway through the song. I admit, I can’t really explain the connection between this sound and killing one’s coworkers, but if you’re curious to find out, there is a video for this song. Peep, it’s quite interesting…
When it comes to the next track, PieFace, I’ll be honest: this track annoys me. And I love it. I can’t listen to it unless I’m doing something. It reminds me of the Doozers from Jim Henson’s old show Fraggle Rock. PieFace maintains an overall busy sound, with snare drums and cymbals that belong in a circus somewhere alongside acrobats flying out of cannons. Now, I don’t know about a pieface, but this song does put me in mind of an egghead; kinda sounds like a theme for one of Dr. Robotnik’s creations. Sega nation, stand up…
(Man, if Flying Lotus ever does the soundtrack to a videogame… OVER. Moving right along…)
As Time Vampires takes center focus, you can hear elements of something very similar to the synths you hear in Clay… once you get past a sound that puts one in mind of an animated imbecile plucking his bottom lip with his two fingers, that is. The flutelike instrument in this track sounds both imperfect and deliberate; it makes sense in its own strange way. But the true beauty of the track lies in the aquatic bubbling heard in the beginning and for most of the track thereafter. Focusing your attention to that one element changes the feel of the entire listening experience from hard to decipher to strangely inviting.
Next, FlyLo offers us the two-part track Jurassic Notion/M Theory. Jurassic Notion is a Thumpasaurus. Its reverberating toms create a cavernous sound, which provides for a prehistoric atmosphere. By the time the woodblock comes a-knockin’, it’s already headnod open season. My favorite thing about the beat, however, is that it comes with its own home team advantage; it’s got the voice of a crowd that mobs to the rhythm. Beyond that movement, however, on the same track, is a strange second movement called MTheory. And I’d be lying if I said I understood it. There’s a sound that comes in sounding like… a roller coaster on its big climb before dropping. But it never drops. Then there’s a random group of voices that appears and disappears in the span of one second. Then there’s a resonant bass that does pretty much the same. …I guess it’s supposed to be a theoretical beat? Who knows.
You may have heard track #6 of the EP, Camera Day, used as a bumper on [adult swim]— did I mention that FlyLo’s the guy responsible for most of those awesome [adult swim] beats? Oops, forgot to mention it… Anyway, Camera Day is the track that every hungry MC is gonna wanna bust their lil freestyles to. Just… please don’t suck at it. Because this track deserves better than that. I’ve heard a lot of cliché, over-synthesized hip-hop tracks in my stay here on Earth, especially living in the Dirty South. But this one’s different. This track is alive. It’s dynamic, moving and changing. It differentiates and develops. Yet, it sticks to a format that the average hip-hop listener can easily digest. It maintains its 1-2-3-4 rhythm, its simple kick and simple snare, and its general bass line and groove. In my humble opinion, I think this track is called Camera Day because, compared to the other tracks, it’s very tame and presentable. Like a little rascal putting on his tux for mommy’s special occasion to keep the guests from talking. With the exception of the instrument kit used, you would never hear this track and guess that it was on the same album as the others mentioned thus far.
…But thank God a little rascal is still a little rascal. Flying Lotus has one more trick up his sleeve as he closes the EP with Physics for Everyone! This beat reminds me of something one might hear from the group Javelin (who I will introduce in some distant-future article). But what sets it apart is the rampant transitions and the more metallic sound. When I say “metallic”… I used to chew on paperclips, right? And I know what metal tastes like; I can even taste and smell the iron in blood (don’t ask). And the synths bring that metallic “taste” back to me. That 8-bit video game feel returns, but it’s almost like Flying Lotus blows the cartridge a few times and takes us inside the game for the finale.
The Pattern +Grid World EP is a very different level of game, no pun intended… I’m lyin’, I totally intended that pun. When you look at the cover of this project, you see two wide eyes and a feathery kaleidoscope of color and detail; I think that this tells us more about the project than the music in a way. It says to me that Flying Lotus is a mind full of intricacies, and that he embraces those intricacies, whether you and I have the time to appreciate them or not. His sound is complex, but also very honest. He was born in 1983, he remembers the things that a 28-year-old should, and he expresses those remembrances in sound. He’s a daring talent, and I’m proud to share birth years with this cat; [adult swim] really struck gold in enlisting his services.
…Gold. Did I mention he reps Cali? Like the gold rush? Prolly shoulda mentioned that…