The Cinematic Evolution of Flying Lotus
Steven Ellison, better known by his stage name Flying Lotus, has been a driving force in the modern electronic scene. His style cannot be pinpointed to a single genre, ranging from jazz to hiphop, and from house to world music and everything beyond. He has collaborated with both legends from the past like Herbie Hancock and George Clinton and modern artists like Kendrick Lamar, Solange and Thom Yorke. He is also the founder of the Brainfeeder label, pushing the music of artists like Teebs, Dutch artist Jameszoo and the most recent signees to the label being Hiatus Kaiyote. In 2017 Flying Lotus launched a separate division for cinema, named Brainfeeder Films.
Once he was a film student himself, so it's no surprise that Flying Lotus is no stranger to films and soundtracks. Most of his music videos are created by very respected names like Kahlil Joseph, Hiro Murai, David Firth and Shinichiro Watanabe. Firth, best known for his animated series Salad Fingers, created a video that some might describe as disturbing or gross for Flying Lotus' track 'Ready Err Not'. He also co-wrote Kuso, Flying Lotus' debut as a filmmaker (or Steve's, that's how he credited himself for the movie). Besides producing the movie, he also scored the movie together with fellow Warp legend Aphex Twin and Akira Yamaoka, the man behind the sounds of the 2006 horror Silent Hill. Kuso received mixed reviews which I could understand seeing the movie's chaotic and gross nature, but I think it offers us a great peek into how Lotus' mind works, and I think it is a great addition to FlyLo's You're Dead! era. During that era he also provided the soundtrack and sound design to FUCKKKYOUUU, a short film by Eddie Alcazar. To me it was that specific movie that really showed me his potential in the world of cinema.
Kuso also featured a short clip of the music video for 'Post Requisite', the first single of his 2019 album Flamagra. This music video also produced by Alcazar, featuring the animated collage work by Winston Hacking. Flanagan saw a slight change in Flying Lotus' overall aesthetic. It still has the same level of weirdness that his previous work has, but overall seems a bit less disturbing. The track 'More' featuring Anderson .Paak. has a beautiful anime video by the before mentioned Shinichiro Watanabe, the creator of two of the most famous animes: Samurai Champloo and Cowboy Bebop. Watanabe also created the anime short film Blade Runner 2049: Black Out 2022, which serves as prequel to the Blade Runner 2049 movie. This anime short is also scored by Flying Lotus. As for Samurai Champloo and Cowboy Bebop, they are both very respected for their soundtrack, one being Hip Hop and the other one being Jazz. The fact that the man behind these anime worked with Flying Lotus got me secretly hoping that we might get a Flying Lotus scored anime one day. And that has just happened!
Yasuke is directed by LeSean Thomas, notable projects he worked on are The Legend of Korra and Adult Swim series The Boondocks and Black Dynamite. Co-written by Flying Lotus himself, Yasuke highlights a piece of Japanese and African history. Yasuke was a 16th century Samurai living in Japan, but with African roots. That information alone is enough of some writers to get very creative, so they have depicted Yasuke's story with a lot of supernatural creative freedom. The same thing is going on with the soundtrack. Of course there are a lot of typical FlyLo synths and percussions, but the taiko (Japanese drum) is a recurring element. And the synths too, they have this retroesque sound to them as opposed to Flying Lotus' usual futuristic sound. The arpeggio in 'War Lords' is very reminiscent of Pink Floyd's 'On The Run'. But it is combined with very energising drums and atmospheric pads, creating this sort of tension. In an interview with The Ringer, he stated that he limited himself to certain synths and drum computers, creating a really cohesive sound in my opinion.
The Yasuke album features several collaborations. With Thundercat and Niki Randa singing on the intro and outro tracks, as well as some bass by Thundercat on several tracks, just like every FlyLo album since Cosmogramma. Randa also provided vocals on 'Hiding In The Shadows', the song that functions as Ichika's theme song. The album and the anime aren't exactly the same, I have heard some tracks in the anime that aren't included on the album and I believe I didn't hear Denzel Curry rapping in the anime, but chances are big that they used the instrumental of that one. The track however, fittingly named 'African Samurai', really adds to the soundtrack, and makes it feel like a real album instead of just a soundtrack. The second half of the series features a stripped down version of 'Black Gold', the opening song, which probably serves as the main theme of Yasuke, recurring multiple times and being the most recognizable melody in the series.
Overall, I can recommend this album to everyone who is into beats or synth music, it really is on par with FlyLo's other work, but a bit more minimalistic compared to You're Dead! or Cosmogramma. But that just shows Flying Lotus' versatility. However, the anime is fun to watch and it doesn't take very long to watch the entire series. In 3 hours you can watch the entire thing. Even though the anime isn't one of the strongest I've seen recently, the soundtrack alone makes it worth watching.
Yasuke is a Netflix exclusive anime, the soundtrack is available on most streaming services and you can pre-order the vinyl on Flying Lotus' Bandcamp.
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