1. Flying Lotus Cosmogramma (Warp) At only 26 years of age, Flying Lotus (aka Steve Ellison) has made effective use of his relatively short run in the limelight. In the five years since he first appeared on the scene, the Los Angeles native's talents have grown in such leaps and bounds that he now finds himself pioneering a full-blown West-Coast beats renaissance. "At this point," Ellison says, "I can really dream things up and see them manifest. It's a great feeling." In 2010, no other producer dreamed up an album as vividly as the monumental Cosmogramma. Released last May, Cosmogramma is a free-jazz space opera for the bass generation. Three albums in, Ellison has finally grown comfortable with letting go of trends and instead following personal influences in his work. Those range far and wide, from the jazz background of his family (his great aunt is Alice Coltrane) to the Technicolor sounds of his Adult Swim days, where he once composed soundtracks.
"Cosmo was a very special time in my life," he concedes. "I went through a lot of tough discovery, and just learning about life. Just right around the time I was starting to find the sound that I was looking for in the record, my mom passed away. That spun my life around in a different direction and put a lot of things in perspective, in terms of what I want to say with my work. I just felt that if I was going to make a statement, it needed to be the most honest one I could make." In fearlessly chasing that honesty, this year Flying Lotus has exceeded what listeners have come to expect from genre-conscious electronic musicians. The ingredients at work here are often disparate and unfriendly ― 8-bit noise, cartoonish synths, swelling Alice Coltrane harps, dense breakbeats ― but in Ellison's hands they unearth a digital side-door into the complex rhythmic territory of free jazz, and fully earn him comparisons to the likes of Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra. Dimitri Nasrallah