‘You’re Dead!’ is the best possible way to die. Steve Ellison, better known by the pseudonym, ‘Flying Lotus’, is a man who let’s his music do all the talking for him. A pioneer of the L.A. beat scene, label head of Brainfeeder, filmmaker, rapper and composer, Ellison embodies the notion of creative ambition. October 6th saw the release of ‘You’re Dead!’ , Ellison’s fifth studio album and perhaps his most ambitious effort to date. An ethereal trip into the afterlife, ‘You’re Dead!’ seems like an unconventional spiritual answer to a J Dilla record. So does Ellison’s new album, a body of work tasked with conveying something as daunting as death, live up to the colossal expectations created by his previous efforts?
It most certainly does.
19 tracks of some of his most elaborately crafted music yet, a mixture between a lighthearted love letter to kingdom come and a morose take on the inescapable. At just over 38 minutes long, most tracks don’t venture far from the two minute mark. That however, doesn’t make it any less poignant, the shorter track lengths serve to play the record out in movements, much like his material in Cosmogramma. Collections of two to three songs can crescendo into powerful passages of intensity and emotion. Baby tracks like ‘Theme’ or ‘Eyes Above’, are no less lush or layered as their lengthier counterparts. In fact, the shorter tracks feature some of the most dense and ornate instrumentation in the album.
The longer and more grandiose tracks, ‘Never Catch Me’, ‘Dead Man’s Tetris’, ‘Turkey Dog Coma’, ‘Obligatory Cadence’, etc. all further showcase just how good Ellison is at constructing tunes that are so communicative. With or without words, these are songs that pack a powerful punch of emotional fervor. Whether it be a sludgy meandering downtempo jazz orchestration or an upbeat roll of thick basslines, the record never ceases to deliver on it’s intended tone. Featuring guests like Herbie Hancock, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Angel Deradoorian, and longtime collaborators Thundercat and Niki Randa, the album is packed with unique contributions that fit seamlessly into the Flying Lotus ethos. Ellison himself even shows up as his rap alter-ego Captain Murphy. The variation and the breadth of stylistic difference from track to track ensures that the album never dulls.
Ellison’s meticulous cinematic approach to creating albums hasn’t failed him here. The most successful thing that ‘You’re Dead!’ conveys is feeling, whether it’s the fear of the uncertain or a sense of hopeless optimism for what lies beyond. Effectively, he takes us on a journey that presents the listener with the chance to inflect, what does such a final concept like death mean to us? How do you face something so formidable and intimidating? The album doesn’t push an answer on the listener but rather leaves it up to interpretation, prompting you to find yourself in the music. The reason Ellison’s music never fails to captivate is because it’s so intensely personal, it comes from somewhere raw and authentic, cutting to the core of human experience. No matter how unconventional or peculiar it can get, it manages to remain empathetic to the most primal emotions. It’s a stark truth that he’s able to deliver through beats and rhythms, making it all the more profoundly honest, no matter how hard the subject matter might be to swallow. ‘You’re Dead!’ stands as one of the best releases this year, an odyssey that truly can’t be missed.
You can catch Flying Lotus in Auckland on the 26th of January featuring his unique 3D projected layer 3 stage set up. His new album, ‘You’re Dead!’, is now available for purchase.