Steven Ellison, better known by his stage name Flying Lotus, perfects his ability to create symphony-like productions using seemingly incompatible sounds in his fifth studio album “You’re Dead!” But, unlike previous works, he expands the range of these sounds to an even more impressive scale that brings listeners on a sensory roller coaster and leaves them gratifyingly drained.
In this album, Flying Lotus adds to the computerized sounds that created havoc-inducing auras in his first two albums, “1983” and “Los Angeles,” to form a more mature innovation. Possibly inspired by his aunt and uncle jazz greats, Alice and John Coltrane, he worked with Herbie Hancock, a 74-year-old groundbreaking keyboardist. Hancock helped bring in aspects of funk and soul to the electronic “You’re Dead!” This new progressive style elevates Ellison as a, if not the, master of his experimental electronic genre – a field dominated by increasingly safe and formulaic dubstep artists.
This 19-track album takes listeners on a spiritual adventure exploring the possible realms that human consciousness may visit upon physical death. The journey is a vivid one in which Flying Lotus tears apart our heartstrings and rummages through our thoughts and emotions like a dog pulling the stuffing out of his favorite chew toy.
The first half of the album is reminiscent of early Flying Lotus, as it brings together ostensibly incoherent sounds and jam packs them into a chaotic combination. He utilizes a free-form jazz style to mash traditional sounds of the saxophone, wobbling guitar riffs, and his signature synthetic sounds. Everything is in flux during the first eight songs – length, tone and tempo are rarely consistent.
Poetic chaos progressively ensues as listeners reach the fifth track, “Never Catch Me,” during which a contemplative fast-paced Kendrick Lamar raps: “This that life beyond your own life, this ain’t physical for mankind / This that out-of-body experience, no coincidence you been died.” Persisting doubts about the very direct and morbid purpose of the album now disappear. Yet, despite the certainty that this work is, in fact, about exploring death, the process still somehow feels like an enjoyable one.
After Lamar’s stint, Flying Lotus shifts direction again by slowing down significantly in the following track, “Dead Man’s Tetris,” in which Captain Murphy (which is Flying Lotus’ vocalist alter-ego) and Snoop Dogg are featured rappers. It turns out that the always-mellow Snoop is there to help transition into the more psychedelic portion of Flying Lotus’ thought experiment, rapping calmly in a guardian-like way: “Bang bang blow your mind / Beep beep flat-line…Hold my hand, laying in the bed.”
By the time track nine, “Coronus, The Terminator,” comes, “You’re Dead!” has started to take its toll, drawing out many emotions with its sensory overload. The artist does listeners a favor by toning it down a bit, and “Coronus” seems to do this job by “terminating” the chaos. The song advances sounds of peace, paradise and harmony and concludes with a symphony of angelic voices. The following track, “Siren Song,” accentuates this by introducing calmer funk beats with the overlying angelic voices from the perfectly named featured artist, Angel Deradoorian.
Fast forward a few tracks and “Ready err Not” intimidates with its slow, methodical, psychedelic tune. It causes one to question the album’s short time spent in harmonic paradise. This sense of uncertainty persists through the next two tracks, as beats range from synthesized constructions to traditional drum beats as if the album’s next exploratory goal is still being decided.
The later half of the album conforms this sense of unease in track 16, as Captain Murphy returns in “The Boys Who Died in Their Sleep” rapping that “I can’t even look in the mirror / Oh baby would you get my pills? / I need a xanny, and a vicodin / A percocet and valium / Anything to take the edge away.” The track is sporadic, rough and chaotic – characteristics which seem to represent the literal withdrawal that might come with pills. At the same time, it indicates that our musical adventure is coming to a point in which concerns of the living are once again arising.
The final three songs slow the album down to its most steady state, as if it is embracing of this death that Flying Lotus and the listener have been experiencing communally. But, this first sense is somewhat misleading as the album ends with “The Protest” in which angelic voices return the emphasis to the eternal nature of death. While death itself seems accepted, its finite nature is rejected.
Flying Lotus has ensured himself a lasting place in the electronic genre with his genius rollercoaster concoction of “You’re Dead!” He expanded his abilities by tapping into his genetic jazz roots and infusing them into his rough-and-tumble style. This musical range cannot help but induce just as much of a spectrum in an audience’s emotions. FlyLo has his way with listeners in this album, forcing them to engage with many feelings despite the constantly morbid content matter. This is an album that takes imagination and thoughts and transports them to ordinarily inaccessible places.