The artist born Steve Ellison has devoted his career to bending and weaving the familiar genres of jazz, hip-hop and funk into fantastical new shapes. His first stand-alone album in five years unfolds like a glittering amalgam of everything he’s done previously — another way of saying it is both accessible and extremely bonkers.
The further out he travels, the more striking the results. David Lynch pops up for a spot of spoken word while Solange Knowles and up-and-coming rhymer Tierra Whack deliver striking cameos of their own. It’s wonderfully bleary — all these ideas thrown at a wall, so that the colours run together and it often falls to the audience to make sense of it.
Still, moments of clarity cut through. Dance-floor tempos glimmer on ‘All Spies’ while the Lynch track, ‘Fire Is Coming’, shared the creepy quirkiness of the director’s Twin Peaks: The Return. For many the highlights will be Whack on the skittering ‘Yellow Belly’, her conversational flow punching through the cocoon of off-contour rhythms Ellison has woven around it.
Ellison hasn’t been idle during his time away. He’s recorded with Kendrick Lamar and Thundercat and, perhaps in a hat-doff to Lynch, directed an insane horror movie that had sensitive viewers running for the door during its premiere.
That same collaborative spirit and willingness to jolt the listener infuses Flamagra. At moments the album seems to be suffering somewhat of an emotional breakdown, as jazz lines crash into hip hop beats and psychedelic melodies.
But the chaos is never wanton and Ellison is a dependable spirit guide, always at our side as we plunge deeper and deeper into the whirlpool of ideas and provocations. You may stagger away confused — but with the sense that your horizons have been expanded, your perspectives challenged, your comfort zone breached.