The world of electronic music gets noisier and more crowded by the minute, with few artists truly standing out. Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus is busy creating his own universe, one that refuses to be defined by a category or genre, mixing jazz, hip hop, R&B, and experimental electronic music to make something new entirely. His fifth proper album, You’re Dead, pushes his metaphysical sound with a 19-song concept album, centered around Ellison considering his own mortality and mourning those he has lost.
As any good concept record does, You’re Dead opens with a theme song in “Theme”, that works as a bit of an overture, running through some of melodic ideas that are yet to come. This may be Ellison’s jazziest album, as at times it sounds less like an electronic musician and more like a jazz musician fashioned after his great aunt Alice or great uncle John Coltrane. Ellison’s jazz pedigree is complemented nicely thanks to the work of drummer Deantoni Parks and saxophonist Kamasi Washington, who are long-time collaborators of Ellison’s but as integral as ever. Songs like the spazzed-out “Cold Dead” and the furious “Moment of Hesitation” which play as more traditional jazz flurries somehow sound right at home and vibrant a midst all the other ideas and sounds on You’re Dead.
You’re Dead boasts an absolutely all-star cast of collaborators young and old. Herbie Hancock lends his icy keyboard accents on “Tesla” and the aforementioned “Moment of Hesitation”, adding some personality into the mix without dominating either song. Legendary cinematic composer Ennio Morricone lends a hand with composing the sultry space adventure of “Siren Song”, and Flying Lotus’ most kindred spirit Thundercat is all over the album with vocals, bass and guitar work.
While these the previously mentioned guests are noteworthy, it’s the two featured rap guests (Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg) that shine the brightest. “Never Catch Me” is a match made in heaven with the marriage of Lamar and Lotus, the lightning quick but relaxed flow of Lamar serving as the perfect counterpart to Lotus’ chilled-out sound. “Never Catch Me” is Ellison expressing the feeling of being young and feeling like you can escape death even though it’s always around the corner; an emotion rarely captured so poignantly in music. “Dead Man’s Tetris” is really the most playful Lotus gets on You’re Dead, and Snoop is the perfect person to add a dose of levity. This is my favorite type of use of Snoop, as he is really more of a character actor rapper, with a larger than life rap persona that is better as a side dish than the main entrée (see also Nicki Minaj).
The most challenging aspect of You’re Dead is its sequencing, as the 13-song descent into the afterlife after track six “Dead Man’s Tetris” is mostly instrumental and short on immediately catchy melodies. They sort of frontloaded the more instantly catchy material, and if you aren’t patient, you will probably want to leave this album behind after just the first six songs. I would advise you to keep with it though since there are a lot of buried treasures in the second half, it just takes several listens to really uncover them.
While not quite his finest, You’re Dead serves to only further cement Ellison as a singular artist, one whose music shines in a sea of carbon copies.
Can’t Miss: “Never Catch Me”, “Dead Man’s Tetris”, “Moment of Hesitation”
Can’t Hit: None