Los Angeles-based Steven Ellison, better known as Flying Lotus, has been pushing the boundaries of IDM, hip-hop, and jazz since 2003. From the Dilla-indebted boom bap of 1983 to the murky, alphabet soup of Cosmogramma, Flying Lotus has always managed to exist on a completely different plane than his peers. On October 7th, Ellison returns with his most anticipated album yet – You’re Dead, released via Warp.
On the surface, You’re Dead shares more with Until The Quiet Comes than any other Flying Lotus release. The nods to free and soul-jazz are as present as always, but this time their delivery feels more like a real, live band than a rearranging/processing of samples. A comparison to the list of live players on Quiet shows that You’re Dead! features about twice as many live musicians, including jazz legend and fellow imagineer Herbie Hancock. Across the album’s first four tracks – “Theme”, “Tesla”, “Cold Dead” and “Fkn Dead” – Ellison is content to let the players do their work.
Like Quiet, there are a myriad of recognizable voices that appear throughout the album. In this case, they come in the form of well known rap superstars, an interesting approach given You’re Dead! marks the first time Ellison has featured rap verses on a Flying Lotus record. Kendrick Lamar appears on “Never Catch Me”, supplementing Lotus’ mad-scientist fusion by delivering lyrics at signature breakneck speed. In keeping with the theme of the album, Lamar’s appearance finds him looking at death from a decidedly zen point of view: “They say that heaven’s real: analyze my demise, I say I’m super anxious, recognize I deprive this fear and then embrace it”.
Elsewhere, Snoop Dogg appears on “Dead Man’s Tetris”. The song begins as a bent reinterpretation of classic southern tropes, complete with pitched down vocals, minimal synth hooks, and deep kicks. It’s the most playful moment on the album, and great for a game of ‘spot the sample’: Street Fighter II deaths and Sanford & Son quotes abound. Flying Lotus recently mentioned in an interview that Pharrell Williams turned down a guest spot on the album, due to his reluctance to create a “self-fulfilling prophecy” and die the next day. By keeping their verses in line with the album’s theme of death, Lamar and Snoop Dogg don’t detract from the deep universe Ellison has created.
You’re Dead is a bench-mark, Ellison’s most ambitious work to date. It defies categorization, creating a world that immerses the listener in both the familiar and absurd. This is the definitive Flying Lotus record, the culmination of 10+ years of music making.