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Dorian Concept - The Nature of Imitation Music Album Reviews

On his second solo album, Austrian producer and Flying Lotus associate Oliver Johnson puts his own eclectic spin on FlyLo’s brand of over-caffeinated astral jazz and hiccuping robo-breaks.

In dance music, four years can feel like an eternity. Take Flying Lotus, who has been unusually quiet since the release of 2014’s You’re Dead!, but whose influence continues to grow. In the interim, his collaborators on that album, Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat, and Kamasi Washington have won a Pulitzer, jammed yacht rock with Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald, and become the driving force in modern jazz, respectively. Low End Theory—the party that got FlyLo his start—is finally shutting down, even as his Brainfeeder label keeps forging into strange new terrain, from dizzying footwork to hazy lo-fi house.

It has also been four years since we last heard from Austrian producer Oliver Johnson. Once a touring member of FlyLo’s group (and a contributor to his album Cosmogramma), he released an album called Joined Ends as Dorian Concept in 2014. The record unveiled a sparkling, melodic side of Johnson’s sound, which put a dreamy spin on IDM. Now, he’s popped up again, on Brainfeeder. And his 180-degree turn on The Nature of Imitation suggests that he has stepped in to fill the void left by his former employer, offering an array of over-caffeinated astral jazz and hiccuping robo-breaks.

The fanfare that opens the album, in the intro to “Promises,” does bring to mind the mix of orchestral fanfare and free-jazz blasts on You’re Dead!, though Johnson pivots from there, toggling between Lonnie Liston Smith-style spiritual drift and fusion. Careening from blissed-out to wonky and back, he crafts a sonic zigzag that carries through the rest of the album. Standout single “J Buyers” similarly toys with expectations, building itself up like a festival-ready EDM track, all tingly ascents and dramatic bass anticipating a big payoff. But Johnson seeks effervescence rather than the gaudiness of the drop, abruptly detouring to milder sounds. A buzz disrupts that placidity, as though a power cable has come unplugged, before the composition bursts into full bloom. Chirping voices and an effortlessly catchy melody eventually flutter into earshot, then out. Dorian Concept’s playful mixing brings to mind the convulsive pleasures of a late-’90s Aphex Twin cut.

This hyper, protean aesthetic means that unabashedly beautiful moments like the piano-focused “A Mother’s Lament” mingle with “E13,” which chirps and beeps like a sentient video arcade. “No Time Not Mine” imagines what a FlyLo/D’Angelo collab might sound like—at least in its first half, before the track spirals out into something busier and more frantic.

Flying Lotus’ “Putty Boy Strut” seems to inform “Pedestrians,” but Johnson adds his own swagger to it, as always. It’s a peculiar track—funky yet mechanical, like Johnson is feeding Cameo and Shalamar records into an algorithm. In its squelching synths and vocoded voices, Dorian Concept creates something that ’70s and ’80s electro-funk auteurs like Kraftwerk, George Clinton, and Roger Troutman hinted at: computer music that uncannily imitates the funk, rather than just faking it.

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