Almost every time the great American jazz trumpeter Miles Davis released an album, it was worlds apart from his last work. And yet, while he continued to explore, innovate and elevate for the majority of his career, regardless of how it shifted or developed, you always had the sense you were listening to his music.
Over the last six years, it’s been a similar story with Flying Lotus, the celebrated star of Los Angeles’ vibrant modern beat music scene. 2010’s Cosmogramma was a space opera of epic proportions, and 2012’s Until the Quiet Comes a deeply psychedelic exploration of the inner mind (or world within). Fittingly, having already investigated the internal and the external, 2014’s You’re Dead sees Flying Lotus looking beyond the mortal coil.
Where The Haxan Cloak explored the journey into the afterlife through bleak minimal soundscapes and punishing sub-bass, Flying Lotus uses 1970s jazz-fusion as a launchpad, reimagining the genius of that era through his own beat-makerly frame. Supported by a cast of vocalists and musicians that includes Herbie Hancock, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat and our own Kimbra, he creates a concise and powerful cycle of songs destined to help redefine the benchmarks for progressive electronic music. You’re Dead is one of the albums of the year.
How is it that Leonard Cohen’s voice just gets better with age? Disregarding the bad MS Paint-style cover art, Popular Problems, the great Canadian rock poet’s 13th studio album, finds him in the same fine form that characterised his genius run during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Now 80, Cohen’s latest opus sees him articulating his lucid ruminations on conflict and war through languid prose, while the weight of sex, love and spirituality hangs heavy around the edges. Set against a smoky backdrop of horns, organs, female backing vocals and strident drums, it’s a masterpiece of rhyme and meaning, tension and release.
Art Official Age/Plectrumelectrum
When you read through much of the critical discourse around Prince’s two new albums, it’s hard to tell whether reviewers are really excited about The Purple One’s new songs, or just happy to hear his flamboyance on record again.
Art Official Age sees him constructing an egalitarian synth-funk space opera with assistance from producer Joshua Welton. Plectrumelectrum is an exercise in funk rock played alongside band members he headhunted off YouTube. While they aren’t essential releases, committed Prince fans will want to explore both. Personally, I’m waiting on that Purple Rain 30th anniversary reissue.