Album Review: You’re Dead – Flying Lotus

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[LISTEN]          [Label: Warp Records]           [Release Date: October 6, 2014]

[Genre: Electronic / Experimental Hip Hop / Jazz Fusion]

Resident Los Angeles producer and musical cosmonaut Flying Lotus has never been one to hedge away from heady and complex subject matter. Two years ago he explored the nuance of dreams, innocence, and childhood. Two years before that his music stretched to seek the cosmos, the very nature of  stars and solar systems. But now in a morbid turn of events, Steve Ellison finds himself absolutely entranced by the concept of death. And this fascination with dying is not some fleeting flirtation, but an utter artistic obsession with the experience and sounds of death—one look at FlyLo’s promotional work with Shintaro Kago and Strangeloop make it more than obvious. You’re Dead! concerns itself with liminal spaces, passing on, floating away, and the rosy jazz-flavored journey one must take once on the other side.

Instrumentally, Flying Lotus finds himself in familiar territory for a decent portion of the LP. “Theme” kicks the album off with force. A tense, rumbling build up quickly implodes and spirals downward 40 seconds into the track, easily making good on the exclamation point in the title by mercilessly dragging any listener down with Captain Murphy, Ellison’s cult leader alter ego emcee, laughing devilishly in the background. “Tesla” and “Cold Dead” are both soon to follow, the former a slightly tamer bass-heavy jazz waterslide, the latter a brazen jazz rock cascade coming in hard with hard-set guitar and saxophone.

One of the album’s biggest selling points in the weeks leading up to its release, however, was the promise of several highly anticipated vocal accompaniments. Lead single “Never Catch Me” sees Kendrick Lamar gracefully darting back and forth between a death wish and a deep desire for immortality, pushing and pulling fast as lightning against the patent piano and bass FlyLo beat. Slower and notably more ghoulish, “Dead Man’s Tetris” follows with a different approach. Here, Captain Murphy and Snoop Dogg exchange mini-hooks to a backdrop of screaming, shouting, laughter, gunshots, and a fiendishly catchy drum loop. In fact, it’s the more playful and mischievous moments like the sudden sputtering of sampled gunfire at “Hold up, hold up / I have this bullet in my head” that give You’re Dead! memorability and texture despite only running 39 minutes over 19 short, sporadic tracks. “Descent Into Madness,” with noted influence from collaborator Thundercat is comparable with its chilling unexpected guitar riffs toward the second half of the song and possessed vocal delivery.

But it’s definitely worth nothing that concision and playfulness doesn’t stop Flying Lotus from creating beauty out of this brief brush with death. “Coronus, The Terminator,” featuring singing from both Niki Randa and Flying Lotus himself (not as super villain Captain Murphy), tells of the end of the days of man and of angels sweeping the worthy away. With much technical brilliance—and some much needed soul from Ellison himself—the track floats on beautifully, as if to replicate the sensation of ascending to another realm. Other tracks like “Siren Song” and “Obligatory Cadence” pair nicely with this idea of ethereality and weightlessness and do well to counterbalance the more deathly moments on the album. This is especially true of closer “The Protest,” with its surreal mixture of chirping birds, stirring harmonies, and steady drum patterns.

Ultimately, You’re Dead! is a trip: psychedelic, jazzy, and even a little frightening if it wasn’t so playful and elegant in its composition and execution. Flying Lotus’ surmise on death has brought upon us a combination of the subtle mischief of Until The Quiet Comes, the industrial grit of Los Angeles, and the otherworldly energy of Cosmogramma. This album is truly a gift if one has the time to absorb it all at once: to slip out of one’s skin, lose one’s mind on several occasions, and roll over in the grave once or twice.  It’s like your own birthday party and funeral occurring at the same time, an experience any experimental music fan should consider in their lifetime.

[Favorite Tracks: “Dead Man’s Tetris” ft. Captain Murphy & Snoop Dogg, “Never Catch Me” ft. Kendrick Lamar, “Coronus, The Terminator”]

by Dynn Javier