The true bane of death is its permanence. This apprehension toward the inevitable is an unwieldy burden to carry, but Steven Ellison’s music has never been tainted by fear. In fact, as Flying Lotus, he’s proven himself to be one of the most audacious and subversive producers of our time. With stellar, mind-bending projects under his belt like Los Angeles and the masterful Cosmogramma, Flying Lotus has paved a lane of his own, capitalizing on his predilection for electronica, jazz, hip-hop, and the ambiguities of the cosmos. Thus, on his latest album You’re Dead!, Ellison chooses not to surrender to eternal slumber, but to eradicate its shackles.
While Flying Lotus’ previous effort, Until the Quiet Comes, was perhaps his most serene, You’re Dead! shows his feet leaving the ground once again. The soundtrack of this journey into the unknown is incredibly vibrant and relentlessly adventurous. Jazz fusion has long been a blueprint in Flying Lotus’ songwriting, but the influence here is amplified to an astounding degree. Tracks like “Cold Dead” and “Turkey Dog Coma” demonstrate instrumental virtuosity and put a more lively spin on the idea of pushing up daisies. The presence of artists like the seminal Herbie Hancock and long-standing collaborator Thundercat sets a stimulating tone, and the proliferation of saxophones and bass create an eclectic backdrop for an experimental project that plunges into the concept of death with wry wit and curiosity. The blips, beeps, and cartoonish effects of “Dead Man’s Tetris”, as well as guest Kendrick Lamar’s triumphant flow and lyricism on “Never Catch Me”, are just a few snapshots of Flying Lotus’ intriguing perspective on mortality.
Structurally, You’re Dead! operates best as a continuous piece, which is surprising given the plentitude of uncanny tangents upon which Flying Lotus embarks. His impressive artistic execution is contingent upon his ability to dovetail one left turn after another. Take the enchanting vocals on “Coronus, The Terminator” and “Siren Song”, for example: the sonic template that he utilizes to complement these tracks flows incredibly naturally, yet their path is anything but predictable. Due to shorter track lengths and dense mixing techniques, however, You’re Dead! is certainly a challenge to penetrate. The seamless transitions between most of the tracks also preclude the elevation of many individual highlights, as Flying Lotus instead focuses his energy on constructing a colorful and cohesive expedition.
Nonetheless, he allows enough space for peaks and valleys to emerge with multiple listens. In the midst of the mayhem, Flying Lotus provides effective diversions on tracks like “Turtles” and “Ready err Not”, which bring forth more simplistic, yet rich, beats. On tracks like “The Boys Who Died In Their Sleep”, however, he showcases a darker hue with a brooding electronic ambience beneath a series of jarring manipulated vocals that croon about drugs and the utopian escape that their unintended results may promise. “Your Potential//The Beyond”, on the other hand, evokes a more hopeful sensibility through its graceful string arrangements, its shimmering crescendo, and Niki Randa’s prepossessing vocals. Though there are a number of tracks that disappoint and fade without leaving a substantial impression, like “Eyes Above” or “The Protest”, You’re Dead!, as a whole, is a refreshing experience.
You’re Dead! lacks immediacy, but it compensates for it with rewarding musical passages and an admirable devotion to the exploration of death’s doorway. From the elegant incorporation of jazz to the clever use of electronics and samples, Flying Lotus has once again proven himself to be a versatile producer with an ear for complexity. Though You’re Dead! is not his finest record, it is easily one of his most intrepid endeavors. He has successfully flirted with death, and we can now look forward to a satisfying victory lap.
Your Potential//The Beyond
Turkey Dog Coma
Ready err Not