The music industry has faced its fair share of death over the years. Whether it’s the loss of musical pioneers like hip-hop producer J-Dilla, the death of musical platforms such as the album, or the death of a genre, death is a subject that constantly recurs in music. It is the mystery we all wonder about, but can be too afraid to touch upon. That is, of course, until Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, released his fifth studio album entitled “You’re Dead!” The LA-based experimental producer bravely explores the topic of death with a profound curiosity, taking listeners on a sonic journey through the different fears and feelings that come with death.
Although “You’re Dead!” is an album based around death, it is a resurrection of many elements of music many have considered dead. An album in its truest form, the 19-track project is not just a collection of songs but rather a single entity or experience. It is an album you must listen to from start to finish to comprehend its vision. This becomes apparent the minute the album’s first track, “Theme,” begins to play. The album opener stands as a prelude for what’s to come, beginning with eerie synth pads and jittery strings that could be used for a horror movie score. The layered instrumentation crescendos into a fury of overwhelming synths and frantic drumming, coming at the listener all at once like one’s life flashing in front of their eyes.
Each song carries a different message and feeling through its various rhythms and melodies, yet flow and transition fluidly like a never-ending song. The brashness of “Theme” carries directly into “Tesla,” a smooth and mysterious ode to late great jazz pioneers such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Flying Lotus’ great-uncle. Filled with sped-up jazz guitar solos and freeform drumming, the song gives off a ‘50s noir vibe, representing the mystery of death. The album then speeds up into “Cold Dead,” a furious track that matches fiery rock guitar over bashing jazz drumming. Although unstructured, the grittiness of the guitar riffs on top of the head-pounding drumming and soulful horns create a magnificent soundscape. “Cold Dead” is short and to the point, demonstrating just how quickly life passes and death happens.
If there is one song that best captures the entire message of “You’re Dead!,” it is “Never Catch Me.” The Kendrick Lamar-assisted single sees both the Compton emcee and Flying Lotus at their musical best. FlyLo combines elements from jazz and hip-hop into his production, matching smooth piano loops over rhythmic drum patterns and funk bass rhythms. “Analyze my demise, I say I’m super anxious / Recognize I deprive this fear and then embrace it,” Lamar declares with a confident tone. Lamar’s verse is an acceptance that death is inevitable, and a statement that he is in control of his fears of death. Kendrick’s verse grows with intensity as Flying Lotus’s production does, breaking down into a mesmerizing guitar solo and later met with pulsating synths. FlyLo combines electronic elements from his earlier works into his upbeat jazz-infused album production, creating a melting pot of different sounds, textures and emotions.
Just as there are many different sides to death, there are many different sides to “You’re Dead!” One full listen-through is just not enough to comprehend the album’s beauty and genius. Flying Lotus has crafted a vivid and beautiful journey through the subject of death all through rhythm and melody. His mastery of production and sound creates a powerful 19-track album filled with elements from hip-hop and jazz, breathing new life into a platform and genre that was once considered dead. The project stands as one of FlyLo’s most cohesive and ambitious albums to date, and is definitely worth multiple listens.
Rating: 4.5 stars