I’ll leave it to someone else to detail what’s wrong with Until the Quiet Comes in much more fabulous cynicism than I could ever dream of writing (yours truly has unitalicized the truly poetic bits):
“Listen again to the opening seconds of Cosmogramma. Now do the same with “All In,” the opening track of Until the Quiet Comes, Steven Ellison’s fourth record as Flying Lotus. Everything you need to know about the difference between these two records is contained there, each album’s essence potently distilled. If you like what you hear in the latter case, then good for you. But if you don’t mind, I’m going to reserve the right to be seriously disappointed.
Until the Quiet Comes is the negation of everything that made Cosmogramma great. It is relentlessly beige. It is “mature.” It is a chai latte. It is loungetronica. It is David Sanborn. It is Nora Jones. It is über proficient. It is no longer the sound of the future. In its obstinate blandness, it is a surprisingly arduous listen even though it only lasts 45 minutes. It is coming straight from Warp to a cocktail bar near you and, soon after that, a Starbucks. It is the sound of an artist in retreat from the shadow of his own success.
What’s more, Ellison knows all of this. Because that was exactly his intention. Here he is in an interview with Britt Brown (Not Not Fun) in the most recent issue of The Wire: “I like the idea of pulling back,” he says. “I made this really grandiose kind of statement, now I wanted to make this quiet statement, trim all the fat and just get a small, tight story out of it, instead of trying to tell the story of the birth of the universe.”
—Tiny Mix Tapes’ James Parker
He compares it to a chai latte! If that isn’t one of the best put downs in the history of musical criticism, I don’t know what is.
Now, my problem with Until the Quiet Comes isn’t that Steven Ellison has decided to forgo the density that let Cosmogramma capture half-a-century’s worth of musical history in less than an hour’s worth. A switch in style is fine, so long as it’s done well, and my problem with Until the Quiet Comes is that wellness only comes in flashes. It was much harder to pick out stand out tracks from Cosmogramma because it might as well have had a “Listen in one sitting” sticker on it as if it were a concept album detailing the birth of the universe.
Standouts on Until the Quiet Comes, on the other hand, stand out because they have nothing to do with any of the tracks that surround it. The huge slabs of bass of “Sultan’s Request” have nothing to do with the tracks that preceded it, and as a result, are almost jarring, despite being an album standout because it’s one of the few times where Flying Lotus demonstrates that he remembers the definition of melody. Likewise, “Putty Boy Strut,” which is the euphoric dance number a la “Do the Astral Plane” follows, hilarious vocals and all, but it drunkenly leaps on stage as if he were sick for the troupe’s preceding week’s rehearsals and didn’t really know when he was supposed to come on. There’s no transition between the two, whereas Cosmogramma would’ve been kind enough to have some sort of brief introductory speech tacked at the end of “Sultan’s Request.” Thankfully though, “Putty Boy Strut” has a brief thing of strings so that “See Thru to U” feels natural, despite the two having nothing to do with each other. See what I’m getting at?
Which leads me to another criticism I have against Until the Quiet Comes. This time around, it feels like Flying Lotus has zero clue about how to direct his guests. On previous releases, he used them to their fullest: letting Laura Darlington emulate everyone’s favorite indie heroines of past decades over a bare-boned ping-pongy production on “Table Tennis,” allowing Thundercat’s more melodic prowess room to breathe on “MmmHmm,” letting Thom Yorke do what Thom Yorke does best on “…And the World Laughs With You.” At every turn on Until the Quiet Comes, the tracks with guest vocalists are its most disappointing instead of being highlights. “DMT Song,” one of the more melodic numbers, is a disappointing minute’s worth, whereas “MmmHmm” was four minutes. Pitchfork’s Mark Richardson notes that both “See Thru to U” (the stupidly chosen representative of the album) and “Electric Candyman” are “too vaporous, too unconcerned with personality” and just so we’re clear—that is not praise; Flying Lotus’s drums on “See Thru to U” drown her out while Yorkeheads thirsting for more Thom Yorke will have to squint their ears to hear his voice on “Electric Candyman” at all; if it were supposed to be creepy, it failed spectacularly.
But I said wellness comes in flashes. “All In” opens the album in a wonderfully insistent beat, like it were an instrumental hip-hop track before Flying Lotus fills in the blank spaces with pretty colors (and bonus point for forming the briefest of suites with the otherwise unremarkable “Getting There”). Elsewhere, “Until the Quiet Comes” is the album’s “Intro / A Cosmic Drama,” arpeggiating up and down like a laptop bullied into believing it’s a harp. “Heave(n)” uses alluring vocal samples to carry it through, “Tiny Tortures” is a demonstration of Thundercat’s melodic bassline, the piano of “All the Secrets” recalls Flying Lotus’ jazz lineage clearer than most other tracks here, and the gentle finger plucks of “Horror” that sound like but probably isn’t an acoustic guitar are fantastic. But again, the pieces don’t fit together; every time you threaten to dream off to “Tiny Tortures,” you’re kicked awake by that asshole Eames playing drums that are too busy in the same room, while Niki Randa’s performance on “Horror” could’ve benefited from a little anything, really. But the album’s most realized tracks are in its second half, “The Nightcaller” is wonderfully danceable, owing to its melodic bass and synthlines (whereas most other tracks would’ve only had one or the other), while “me Yesterday // Corded” begins with keyboards and vocals recorded as it from a distant place or time, before fleshing out into something fuller.
Chai latte. That’s basically it. Who would want to order a chai latte when they could have something with whip cream and pumpkin spice?