Album Review: You’re Dead! by Flying Lotus
7 October 2014
You’d never know it, but Steven Ellison has been busy as ever over the last two years. Between juggling his two major projects, Flying Lotus and Captain Murphy, countless guest producer features, and scoring an entire film, it is nothing short of miraculous that You’re Dead! has finally been released. It has been two years since Ellison’s debut as Captain Murphy with Duality, his last official release. Over these two years, it’s obvious that Ellison has matured as a creator, now entering his thirties, and it shows through his music. Although You’re Dead! is as typical a Flying Lotus record you’ll hear, there are noticeable differences when compared to previous projects such as Cosmogramma or 1984. The foundation is consistent, but instead of the ambient, alien-sounding electronic passages FlyLo has become famous for, Ellison opts for something different. Punctuated, ethereal soundscapes, distinctly human in instrumentation and sound, litter the entirety of You’re Dead!, offering a completely different journey altogether.
The four tracks that begin the album are all essentially a long-winded window into the “true” beginning of the album. Theme introduces a jazzy driving force right from the get go. Live instrumentation is commonground on You’re Dead!—a change of pace as far as Flying Lotus is concerned. It is clear from as early as this first track, that Thundercat’s bass feature—which is consistent for the project’s entirety—will be as big a highlight as any. The song’s hectic, frantic accents of loud instrumentation through the atmospheric fog are small tastes of the project’s remaining half hour.
Continuing through the rest of the album’s introduction yields the same results that are found on Theme: mysterious, gloomy atmospheres broken by the sudden interjection of human musicianship. Drums, saxophones and ever present basslines drive the introduction towards the true theme of the album, Never Catch Me.
From the moment Never Catch Me starts, it becomes clear that now the album has truly begun. The melodic piano plunks away as Kendrick Lamar—one of many star-like features Ellison teamed up with—begins rapping. As the song progresses Kendrick transitions from his nasal register until he is basically yelling into the microphone, following the powerful crescendo which drives the song forward. In fact, this song very well sums up the entire project. In order to experience You’re Dead! as comprehensively as possible, you need to understand that it is an experience, not simply an album.
From beginning to end, Ellison’s goal is to bring the listener through an auditory voyage, exploring the journey of death, and its obsequious counterpart, life. We travel from the hectic rush of Tesla, to the thematic Never Catch Me, to the heavenly Coronus, the Terminator, and almost every spot in between. Dead Man’s Tetris explores the issues when the recently departed still want our earthly pleasures, while Descent Into Madness follows the grim spiral of one’s consciousness into madness. Although at first listen, this album may seem monotonous and repetitive, the variety among songs will seep through on third and fourth listens, which is where the album shows best.
In terms of features, there are quite a few worth mentioning. The obvious superstar of the bunch, Kendrick Lamar, starts the album out voraciously, followed immediately by Snoop Dogg. The song Dead Man’s Tetris isn’t as high tempo as most of the others, and instead of settling into his usual niche, Snoop Dogg falls unimpressively short of his potential. Sure, it’s cool to see generationally divided west coast moguls work together, but Snoop honestly brings very little in the way of his usual relaxed charisma, leaving the song as dry as it would be without him. That’s not to say it was horrible, simply a disappointment from a name as prestigious as Snoop Dogg. Herbie Hancock’s feature continues bridging generations together, lending his free jazz style to Tesla and Moment of Hesitation. The real star of the features, however, is perhaps most unnoticed of all: Thundercat. FlyLo and Thundercat are no strangers, working together on multiple projects in the past, and just as it has been previously, Thundercat’s eclectic bass playing adds a distinct dimension to the album. Breaking out in random frantic arpeggios, driving melodies forward and setting the atmosphere of a multitude of songs are all commonplace for Thundercat, adding even more to the project’s understated range.
You’re Dead! also marks the first release from Flying Lotus where Ellison features his rapping alter-ego, Captain Murphy. Although his own features are few and far between, I admire him for allowing other rappers into the spotlight, taking only supporting roles—and minimalistic ones at that—when it came time to rap himself.
Whether you’re a Flying Lotus fan or not, You’re Dead! has appeal which blurs the line between instrumental music, hip hop, and jazz. With some patience, this project will bloom into something much more complex and intense then you may have first realized. For Ellison to come from a lineage of game changing albums—Cosmogramma and Los Angeles to name the most notable—and keep moving forward is admirable. Although You’re Dead! won’t find itself among the top tier albums in Ellison’s discography, or even albums from this year, there is a lot of value packed into this thirty-eight minute adventure.
Recommended if you like: Teebs, Thundercat, Gaslamp Killer, BadBadNotGood, J Dilla, Madlib
Album Highlights: Tesla, Never Catch Me, Turkey Dog Coma, Coronus, the Terminator, Turtles, Moment of Hesitation, Descent Into Madness
Never Catch Me (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
Dead Man’s Tetris (feat. Captain Murphy & Snoop Dogg)
Turkey Dog Coma
Coronus, the Terminator
Siren Song (feat. Angel Deradoorian)
Ready err Not
Moment of Hesitation
Descent Into Madness (feat. Thundercat)
The Boys Who Died in Their Sleep (feat. Captain Murphy)
Your Potential//The Beyond (feat. Niki Randa)