by Kanye West
Steven Ellison had a hell of a 2008. The 25-year-old Southern Californian who records as Flying Lotus issued Los Angeles, an album of spacey, fluttering, teasingly bent beat-head catnip that ended up on a bunch of year-end best-of lists. He also got some attention for the L.A. EP 1 and 2 x 3 12-inches he put out (the second is maybe the best remix collection released last year, while the third is allegedly on its way) and capped it with a bustling set for BBC's Essential Mix that aired November 29. But he snuck out of 2008's back door with this remix of one of the year's big, semicontroversial tunes, which was on blogs a week before Christmas.
Whether you think Kanye's song is a new peak or T-Pain gone emo-and-lame is up to you; I like it as a single but find the album tiresome. But knowing it already definitely helps you hear Ellison's version as an alternate-universe version of the original, rather than a marketing device for a dance floor different from the kinds Kanye serves, which is the usual root of remixes. Ellison basically makes it over into a woolly, clanking dubstep track: the snares like coughing pipes in an abandoned building, the low-buzzing drone surrounding the words like the one room in that building whose fixtures still work. It sounds as desolate as Kanye claims to feel, and it makes the Auto-Tune almost a nonissue—that device makes the vocalist sound like he's swaddled under pillows anyway; now everything else sounds like that, too. Maybe Mr. West ought to hire Mr. Ellison to coproduce his next album.
This is one of those records that seems to have emerged fully formed from the smoke-filled id of its creators. In very light, clear, faint falsetto, coconspirators Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm of Brooklyn, New York, chant "flowers" a lot as background noise for delicate, instantly ingratiating melds: of congas and steady electro pulse (with appropriately tinny, truncated "snare" noises); close-plucked rhythm guitar that could have come off Talking Heads' Remain in Light and two-finger synth riffs that could have come off the first Depeche Mode album; the kind of cool, cloistered feel of the structurally similar "Cable Dazed," by similarly DFA-inspired Brooklynites Invisible Conga People, and something a lot airier and more mid-'80s. I'd like to hear whatever else they want to offer.