Flying Lotus brings jazz fusion to the club with You're Dead!
Steven Ellison (a.k.a Flying Lotus) is an outsider, with his dark, sombre side veritably showing up in his latest full length album You’re Dead!. A softly spoken, creative mastermind, Ellison’s latest album offers an insight into both his industrious mind and tortured soul.
Ubiquitous musings on death and melancholia permeate the album’s panicked, otherworldly soundscapes and ethereal track listing, ominously resonating through the space-time continuum like a note from Kevin Shields’ jazzmaster. A millennial odyssey that encompasses both complex ideas and musical locutions, You’re Dead! is a seamless juxtaposition of smooth, mellow jazz and transient moments of glitchy goodness broken up by fleeting interludes of atmospheric electro.
Despite his ostensible personal reclusion, though, Ellison doesn’t take the desolate journey on his own. Two appearances from Herbie Hancock on keys contribute to the album’s jazzy feel, with his contributions on “Tesla” and “Moment of Hesitation” providing moments of beautiful, fusion-y disarray, while Snoop Dogg offers his instantly recognisable nonchalance to the bass-heavy “Dead Man’s Tetris”. Add to that appearances from Ellison’s rapping alter ego Captain Murphy, long-time collaborator and bass monster Thundercat, Angel Deradoorian, Niki Randa and Kimbra, and it would appear there is no shortage of people to help him navigate the album’s ornate psychedelic ambience.
As is the case with most FlyLo albums, listening to an individual track on You’re Dead! has the potential to cause flippancy amongst naïve audiences, and so, listening to the album in its entirety only helps the listener appreciate it for its magnificent artistry further. But there are most certainly some standout tracks that can be replayed in isolation over and over again.
“Coronus, the Terminator” is one of them, sounding like Brian Eno being filtered through J Dilla’s iconic Moog synth, while the delicate vocals on “Obligatory Cadence” float down a gentle stream of neo-soul production to give the listener an out of body experience. But it is “Never Catch Me”, featuring fellow Pitchfork darling Kendrick Lamar, that provides the album’s centrepiece and most outstanding track. A slab of futuristic sounding doo wop, Lamar raps (or rhapsodies) over a mellow jazz chord progression and typically frantic Thundercat bass groove, accompanying Ellison on another diatribe against traditional structures and conventions.
However, for all of the album’s virtuosity (and there is plenty of it) there are times at which the music doesn’t quite come together, with some of the permutation and crossover almost a little too extreme. FlyLo is renowned for his ability to make the seemingly fractured and erroneous sound whole, and You’re Dead! is a pretty close to impeccable example of how to do it.
Whilst its influences are from the past, FlyLo’s latest offering is a modern infusion of electro, hip hop, soul and jazz which is as mind-opening as the album art by Japanese comic book artist Shintaro Kago. Ellison has created yet another hugely gratifying piece of sound art, and considering the boundaries he is pushing at just thirty years of age, it’s scary to think about what he’s gonna do in the future.