Flying Lotus, recording name of Steven Ellison, comes back this fall with his fifth album, You’re Dead! Two years after the sublime Until The Quiet Comes, Brainfeeder boss pursues his musical adventure tainted with hip-hop, electronica and above all jazz, for our greatest pleasure.
(French version of that article available here)
Until The Quiet Comes was a quite peaceful and accessible record, but You’re Dead is a more complex, abrasive and condensed album. Helped by his usual guests, singer Niki Randa and bassist Thundercat, Flying Lotus pushes the boundaries of his art. This album is a group effort, displaying prestigious guest appearances by Herbie Hancock, Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg. First and foremost, it is heavily held together by a strong jazz band including drummer Deatoni Parks, metal guitarist Brendon Small and saxophonist Kamasi Washington. Also worth noting is the presence of Brandon Coleman on keys (who was already featured in Until The Quiet Comes) and singer Angel Deradoorian.
Flylo brought out heavy artillery to develop his vision. Based upon the concept of death, You’re Dead! is a journey to the farthest reaches of his universe. The tracks flow non-stop, displaying a type of jazzy coherence and beauty common to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Herbie Hancock, the latter being present in the tracks “Tesla” and “Moment of Hesitation”.
Being a huge progressive rock fan, Flying Lotus attaches great importance to this music genre in You’re Dead!, as evidenced by the structure of such tracks as “Cold Dead”, “Fkn Dead” and “Turkey Dog Coma”, just to name a few. Listening to these prog rock-influenced melodies, we can’t help but remember some classic albums from the 70s, such as King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic and Soft Machine’s Third.
However, You’re Dead! is mainly a jazz record. By mixing different atmospheres, Steven Ellison delivers an epic of an album, which manages to be both gloomy and radiant, like a majestic painting. Indeed, Flying Lotus’ music displays a very visual aspect. Therefore, the very tortured artworks of Japanese manga-ka Shintaro Kago perfectly suit this album.
Affected by his mother’s and Austin Peralta’s death, the Californian producer invites us to meditate on the moment we pass away. This lays the foundation for an epic trip through which Flying Lotus attempts to come to terms with his personal demons, by exposing them in broad daylight. Speaking of personal demons, Flylo’s evil twin, his mysterious rapping alter-ego Captain Murphy, is also featured on several tracks where he chants strange and gloomy lyrics. Murphy’s dark verses blend with Flylo’s more fragile and high-pitched voice, as a contrast between the villain and the unmasked, without-artifice Steven Ellison, for instance on the heart-rending “The Boys Who Died In Their Sleep”, dedicated to Austin Peralta.
The collaboration between Captain Murphy and Flying Lotus is a schizophrenic division between two universes created by Ellison, resulting in an idiosyncratically intense world of contrasts. You’re Dead is filled with all sort of details, which make it a very refined, albeit sometimes brutal, album. Every listening reveals new aspects and new elements of the narration.
One of the most remarkable things in this album is its strongly narrative structure. It feels like Flying Lotus is telling a personal and winding story, the story of his bereavements and his way of facing death in general.
For instance, the short film for “Never Catch Me” seems to feed this reflexion. Indeed, the clip depicts two teenagers rising from their coffins during their own funeral, to perform a festive dance towards freedom. This metaphor of mourning, which leads the dead to fill the world with their presence, illustrates the theme of the album.
Although these explorations around the theme of death seem very dark, the album has got its share of radiant moments. Therefore, the album ends with recurrent guest Laura Darlington singing the line “we will live forever” on “The Protest”, the “most important statement on the record” according to Ellison. So it seems that the trip ends on this very positive note, and finally reveals the victory of life over death. The statement may be: “our memories don’t die, and so don’t we”.
With this fifth album, Flying Lotus manages to surprise again and shows he is willing to evolve constantly, giving up his comfort to push his own boundaries. He proves once again it is no coincidence that he is the boss of one of the world’s most influential labels.
Flying Lotus – You’re Dead! (Warp)