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Innumerable artists cite David Lynch as an inspiration, but Steven Ellison is the only one to have had a serendipitous encounter with the filmmaker that affirmed an album's theme and led to a collaboration on its central track. At a party some point after the release of 2014's You're Dead, Ellison, who had been considering the thematic potential of fire, heard Lynch spin a characteristically outré tale about an inferno threatening to engulf a neighborhood. This developed into "Fire Is Coming," a kind of radio drama vignette placed in the middle of Flamagra, the sixth Flying Lotus album. After Lynch delivers the warning, normalcy by Ellison's standard resumes with a jouncing beat, a tangly Thundercat bass line, and a frightful chant about the element's destructive power. Fire's positive and negative associations are referenced by many of Ellison's other collaborators here. For Little Dragon on the dizzied "Spontaneous" -- Ellison's closest brush with pop yet -- it represents new love. George Clinton sounds a little devilish on "Burning Down the House" (an original), shuffling funk that puts pyromaniac twists on his "Atomic Dog" and "Aqua Boogie." While the album begins with a crackle and ends with a poetic epilogue about its lasting effects, fire's role in the album elsewhere is either nonexistent or negligible. It's somewhat obscured by a straggling sequence that runs beyond an hour -- over 20 minutes longer than any previous Flying Lotus LP. The spluttery, helter-skelter thrash-fusion instrumentals are overabundant -- duly animated and spirited, yet infrequently as riveting as they are on Ellison's preceding sessions with welcomed holdovers such as strings master Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, keyboardist Brandon Coleman, and two thirds of the Bruner brigade, aka Thundercat and drumming sibling Ronald Jr. Most moving are "Thank U Malcolm," a skyward Mac Miller tribute, and "Takashi," a high-velocity belter that sounds like an update of an imagined 1976 collision between Stevie Wonder and Return to Forever. As for the vocal numbers, the highlights -- the whirling, whomping Anderson .Paak jam "More" and the sublime, Thundercat-fronted "The Climb" -- spread clear and generous messages about love and resolve. Also involved are Solange, Shabazz Palaces, Denzel Curry, Tierra Whack, and Toro y Moi, whose appearances veer from wraithlike to comically perverse, and vary to muddling effect. Somewhere in here is a 40-minute program with greater impact. Getting to know the whole thing well enough to make a custom-contracted edition is worth the time.
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