This summer, Los Angeles experienced an oddly cosmic moment at the intersection of hip-hop, electronica and deep-digger psych. It’s terrain best exemplified by both dublab and Low End Theory’s open-eared aesthetic, where bands like Entrance are mixed with NoCanDo, where RZA could slip right into Tyrannosaurus Rex if a certain DJ is on deck. While it’s not quite a new paisley underground, there’s certainly a refreshing sense of ambition and depth. This energy, courtesy of a few daring labels, brings with it a sense that now might be the time for a new wave of L.A. producers and performers to meet the outside world. British-based Warp Records has its first L.A. signee with Flying Lotus; Ubiquity Records has Long Beach’s Blank Blue; and New York City dance stalwart DFA has just released its first L.A.-based artists on the jumpy-bumpy Notwave compilation (via new, happy matrimony with New York–based Rong Music). Together, the three recent releases suggest the same something: beats a little bit more on for being just a little bit off.
Flying Lotus is rising too fast to track — just last week, he debuted the “Reckoner” remix Radiohead had requested, putting himself up there with No Age in the touched-by-Thom club. Just prior, he released the first of a trio of new EPs that turn his debut full-length, Los Angeles, into a self-contained ecosystem. His family already has a discography: The auntie he mentions on Los Angeles is Alice Coltrane; his mother wrote for Diana Ross; and Los Angeles is landscape as Kirlian photograph, lightning strikes and smog on 17 bent but beautiful instrumentals that won plenty of Dilla and Madlib comparisons. There’s something especially satisfying about listening to a producer totally in thrall to a vision. On Los Angeles, Lotus breaks apart 8-bit beetle boops and batucada percussion and climaxes with the hopeful cacophony of a Pharoah Sanders song.
L.A. 1 x 3 (out now on Warp) is practically a suburb of Los Angeles. Presented again are album highlights “Sleepy Dinosaur” and “Roberta Flack” (the last featuring rare vocals by longtime collaborator Dolly), with reinforcement by the standout “Rickshaw,” a pounder that trumps even Los Angeles’ “GNG BNG” with a set of spectral Far East hooks stuck to a beat that keeps snapping in half. “My Chippy” and “Paper Crane Gang” shake up Lotus’ much-loved bugs-in-a-jar digi-blips, and “Interference” delivers the moody finale. Like his best tracks, those on L.A. 1 x 3 mix the music of the spheres with the sound of ships sinking — it’s the kind of creation you could examine for hours.
DJ Nobody — a bit of a spiritual elder when it comes to this sort of maximally inclusive production — released his band Blank Blue’s Western Water Music, Vol. II in May. That was a deep and somber concept album about the big quake scheduled to sink us all, built from psychedelic scholarship that deserves a presidential medal and mournful vocals by record-store co-worker Niki Randa. Water Music arrived gloriously back-masked and fearlessly reverbed.
But Blank Blue’s Dive EP (out September 30 on Ubiquity Records) left-turns the band from library overdrive to a gentle acoustic sound. Album tracks “Up” and “Sonic What?!” (title to be pronounced with Lil Jon enthusiasm) move from shoegaze soundwalls to blissed little gems that could be soft moments from Spiritualized or Telescopes were it not for the drum murmurs in the background. It’s a transformation that flatters them: With the weighty production cut, Randa’s vocals find new wings, and Nobody’s melodies flap skyward after them. Unreleased “Finer Grains” would have fit easily on Water Music. Here, it’s almost a cue to roll credits, and a Flying Lotus remix booms in like a cop car from Blade Runner.
Producer and DJ Scotty Coats — who just finished 10 years as a resident at Costa Mesa’s Abstract Workshop — joins Orange County’s Non-Stop on Rong/DFA Records’ Notwave compilation. (Like no wave but … not, or so the explanation goes.) Non-Stop’s “Hydration Explosion” explodes with the jittery joy of Neu! On Notwave, Coats’ “Beautiful Ones” hauls up a bass line from an underwater cave and a hook out of the producer’s own golden throat (sung into headphones because there was no mic!) for a slow-burn head-nodder. His “Lude Boy the Rude Boy” makes a polar pulse beat and a set of primal screams into a song that decompresses loft disco into infinite space and echo — beat and clouds and just enough vocals to remind you that there’s a guy alive in there somewhere.
Coats, with partner Wes the Mes, is plowing out a series of remixes in the next 90 days, the best of which so far is a reworking of Free Blood’s “Weekend Condition,” which twists an already contorted track into punk-funk Material/Was Not Was avant-post-pretzelism. (Another Rong/DFA local to watch is Woolfy — coming soon!) “This is weird shit,” as a kickoff sample on another of his upcoming remixes puts it. As a manifesto for what’s moving right now, that’s not very elegant. But it’s not wrong, either.
FLYING LOTUS | L.A. 1 X 3 | Warp Records
BLANK BLUE | Dive | Ubiquity Records
VARIOUS ARTISTS | Notwave | Rong/DFA Records