In addition to his storyline input and co-executive producer credit, Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, wrote and produced the original music for LeSean Thomas' Yasuke, an anime series inspired by the 16th century African samurai who served under Japanese feudal lord Oda Nobunaga. This was much more than mere commissioned work for Ellison. Obsessed with anime since adolescence, and open about it throughout his career, he went into the project having composed music for the short film Blade Runner Black Out 2022 and the series Carole & Tuesday. In hindsight, those smaller-scale anime works were warm-ups. Yasuke is Ellison's most atmospheric full-length and strides from track to track with as much grace as Until the Quiet Comes. Sounds from traditional Japanese and West African instruments are heard throughout, either separate from or woven with Ellison's familiar spasmodic and swishing percussion. Synthesizer shading often taps into the noirish romanticism in Vangelis' Blade Runner score. Other keyboards conjure feelings ranging from vengefulness to dread to wistfulness, drawing from prog rock and classical synthesizer epics, as well as science fiction soundtracks across all visual mediums. The clearest reference is in "War Lords," a tense sequence with a taut cyclonic pattern like Pink Floyd's "On the Run." Ellison calls upon several close collaborators. Niki Randa's otherworldly folk-soul voice is featured on two pieces, including the finale, for which Robert Glasper provides the prismatic keyboards. Denzel Curry raps with defiance from Yasuke's embattled perspective. Miguel Atwood-Ferguson's dancing strings add a sense of looming threat to "War at the Door." And, of course, there's Thundercat. His thrumming basslines are deployed sparingly in purposeful fashion, and it's his radiant falsetto on "Black Gold," the Rotary Connection-quoting opening theme. Although it was purpose-built, Yasuke should be considered the seventh proper Flying Lotus album, not a diversion. It's one of Ellison's most riveting works.
Yasuke [Music from the Netflix Original Anime Series] Review
by Andy Kellman