Okay, let me start a bit cheesy. I still remember that day, when I was introduced to Flying Lotus' music. As obsessed with Thom Yorke and Radiohead 16 year old kid I heard Thom Yorke collaborated with this LA producer on his album, called Cosmogramma, which just came out. I saw this amazingly trippy artwork, played the album and just couldn't believe what I heard. That was the most genius combination of 70s Miles Davis kind of jazz-fusion, wonky hip-hop beats and future electronic music from outer space. And with every single tune he releases, Flying Lotus just does it better and better. When you listen to an album for the first time, there is something you hear, which makes it not only good (or bad) piece of music, but it turns out to be some kind of personal journey. Experience, which puts the sounds you hear together with your inner emotions and creates imaginary sea in which you would happily drown. This is how I felt when first heard new conceptual opus by Flying Lotus aka Steven Ellison, called You're Dead!. Yes, the guy is genius and there is no discussion, but this is the first time I take Flying Lotus' music so personal.
You're dead! is maybe the most hyperactive and at the same time mature and structured Flying Lotus album released to date. He is one of those artists, that even if you're not really into their music you would definitely appreciate it. People say, that it is his “darkest” work, but I think it really depends how you perceive this word. You just can sense the perfect balanced fusion between Cosmogramma's chaoticity and the deep calm jazzy atmosphere in Until the Quiet Comes. And as I mentioned the conceptual character of You're dead!, it doesn't feel like you are listening to a narrative of a story, but more like a illustration of a mental, emotional experience. As the album goes on,I just can't pass Steven's words abouthis near dead experience said in a recent interview:
“I was in my hotel room, and I had done my fair share of ups and downs that night and um ... I woke up in the middle of the night and stumbled to the minibar to try and find some water, and I just collapsed. I couldn’t move; I was paralyzed. I could feel my heart stop. All feeling stopped. I stopped hearing. My sight started to get white, and things in the room just started to go away. And then I got cold. I was just like, ‘Okay, I’m dying. This is totally what they talk about when you’re dying.’ And I started thinking about my friend Austin who passed away. I thought of all the people that have passed away in similar instances, like drug-taking: ‘Ahhh, this is how it happens. It’s just a slip up.’ And then I was thinking, ‘Wow, I’m going to fucking die in this fucking shitty hotel room!”
This is exactly how the album is structured. Just like all these stories people tell about facing death. It illustrates an experience of exploration of fears and questions about death and the connection between body and soul, material and spiritual world. Obviously, this is something that affected Ellison deeply and became an inspiration. The passing of people, he is connected to in some way just reflects his work. There are like a millions of themes and elements in You're Dead! that could not be explored and described in the form of an album review, because of all the complexity, but I will try to give you a fair image of how I feel about it.
As something typical for Fly Lo, the album has 19 tracks (without the bonus track Protector) but is only about 38 minutes long. Despite sometimes over experimental sound of his albums, You're dead! is maybe the smoothest 38 minutes of Flying Lotus music I ever heard. Although, the jazz-fusion kind of experimental vibe is everywhere in this album, to me it sounds like the easiest to listen to Flying Lotus work. And I am not talking about simplicity or something in that spectre. You can hear everything from proggy time signatures and Chick Corea's Return To Forever bass lines to wonky hip-hop beats and gospel vocals. It's still very complex, experimental and well composed, just goes so natural and smoothly. You should listen to it from the beginning to the end to get the best experience and understand what Ellison wants to express.
The title track, “Theme” shows the feeling of frustration, paralysis and expectation. It sounds like you expect something to happen, but you don't really know what is it and it feels static, exactly like you can't move and you start being nervous about it. The song starts to move and you become more and more anxious, until the moment you hear that chilled sax and sense a moment of calmness and...the chaotic drums kick in. Every following song, including “Tesla”, “Cold Dead” and “Fkn Dead” becomes more and more dynamic, noisy and rhythmically complex, but at the same time every next song sounds deeper and organised and it seems, that they are like overtures to each other and to something else, that is yet to come. It recreates the settin of the “process” of dying – the white cloud, how everything disappears slowly, the mess in your conscious, the anxiousness and slowly you become more relaxed and chilled. And this leads to the second single (and the longest track in the album) “Never catch me”, which by the way has a really beautiful video directed by Hiro Murai. Flying Lotus is famous for collaborating with different people on his albums. As we know, other Brainfeeder magician, Thundercat plays bass on every song. As a matter of fact , almost every track in You're dead! features another artists, turning Flying Lotus in kinda collaborative project. Kendrick Lamar's hyperactive and over expressive style just fits perfectly and when I heard it it felt like I am not only listening to it, but I am experiencing it first person. “Never Catch Me” is maybe the catchiest Fly Lo song and by my opinion the only proper standalone track on You're Dead!
As you're dying, here comes the moment when you realise, that you are actually (maybe) already dead and move on to the spiritual world. “Deadman's Tetris” is the moment of realization and acceptance. Ellison's rapping self Captain Murphy alongside Snoop Dogg are taking us to a weird journey in the spiritual world where they are about to blow some trees' with J Dilla, seeing Austin Peralta and Freddie Mercury. Actually, if you listen closely you will hear Queen and J Dilla influences all over this album.You hear those people speaking and laughing and you feel like you are there and experience this scene. Snoop's part is really chilled in the typical relaxed flow, accompanied with Tundercat's bass chords. So now, you're dead and about to start the more colourful and triply part of your journey with the playful “Turkey Dog Comma”, which gives you this 70s psychedelic vibe and introduces you to a synesthetic experience of heavenly colours, images and sounds. Here you could split the album in two parts. The process and realisation of death and the journey to the spiritual world and eternity. The short “Stirring” is your bridge to “Coronus the Terminator”, when the things becomes more and more soulful. The moment when angels come for your soul and lead you to an ethereal world. Accompanied by Thundercat and another frequent collaborator (and ex-girlfriend) Nikki Randa, Flying Lotus sings (yes he sings in this one) about salvation of the lost and hopeless. It's brilliant how in his tunes the guy uses lyrics just occasionally, when there is something more, that could not be expressed properly only instrumentally and just says exactly what he wants to and does it perfectly. So, you just keep becoming more and more distant to the material world, floating in light. As You're dead! progresses you just feel the contrast between the two parts of the album. The contradiction between the material and the spiritual world, between the weight of the body and liquidity of the soul.
You keep going further in your exploration accompanied by the gentle “Siren Song” with the beautiful voice of the former Dirty Projectors vocalist Angel Deradoorian and then...you see them Turtles goofing around. I was shocked by the fact, that this song almost didn't make the album it's just so good. If you're “Ready Err Not”, you should move forward, despite the bit of mystery and maybe a little fear, you're dead above all. And yes, it gets deeper and a little darker. The brilliant “Eyes Above”, in which Ellison works with the amazing FKA Twigs, brings you to the jazzy “Moment Of Hesitation”, where you can hear maybe the biggest collaboration in this album with the living legend Herbie Hancock. Believe me, if you could bring Herbie paying in your track, you are really big. And it's so beautiful. After your “Moment of Hesitation”, with his usual style and obviously Queen inspired vocal harmonies, Thundercat is welcoming you to “Descent Into Madness”. Thundercat AKA Stephen Bruner is a permanent Flying Lotus collaborator and his bass and voice are featured or every album since Cosmogramma. He was really close friends with the genius pianist and also Ellison's frequent collaborator Austin Peralta, who died at the age of 21 in his sleep due to complications from alcohol and drugs. Bruner dedicated his 2013 album Apocalypse to him and featured a song in it, called “A Message for Austin/Praise the Lord/ Enter the Void”. Maybe accidentally or not (I really doubt it's an accident) “Descent Into Madness” is followed by “The Boys Who Died In Their Sleep”, a homage to Austin. Captain Murphy spookily raps about taking Vicodin, Xanax, Valium and Perocet and repeating take another pill, take another pill, take another pill, obviously referring to Austin's addiction.
You are driving to eternity with the wonky “Obligatory Cadence”, followed by Nikki Randa featured ”Your Potential/The Beyond”. This song is just beautiful it makes you just close your eyes and dream. Your soul just reach the end of its journey. You meet all this lost souls at “The Protest”, where they all gather to their trip to eternity. It sounds so nostalgic and at the same time optimistic, giving you chills. As Ellison said: "The Protest is the most important statement on the record". It's the spirits gathered, remembering we never die. It couldn't be said more accurately. The light after darkness. The perfect ending of this amazing piece of art.
This is maybe the longest and most emotional album review I recently wrote and I feel it's still not enough to express how I felt about this You're Dead! and how much it means to me, despite the fact it came out so recently. Flying Lotus just proved, that there are not limits when it comes to music and you could use so diverse range of inspirations in order to create a perfect, beautiful piece of art. With the risk to sound too cheesy, I really invite you to dive in this wonderfully ethereal experience.