Listening to a Flying Lotus (Steve Ellison) record for the first time, from ‘1983’ to ‘You’re Dead!’, you are simply awestruck. So many things, all at once, it shouldn’t work, et cetera. This same train of thought leads to the major criticism of Flying Lotus: he creates music which is disjointed, sketch-like, overloaded with ideas. On his last record, ‘Until the Quiet Comes’, he withdrew. The songs were still short, but they weren’t overdosed with the rhythmic mayhem that ‘Cosmogramma’ and everything before had melded so perfectly in my opinion.
The opening tracks of ‘You’re Dead!’ would suggest that Ellison has got hyperactive again. The aptly titled ‘Theme’ introduces the various “sounds” that make up FlyLo’s latest offering: the woozy synths, jazz instrumentation, the breakbeats and everything else imaginable. On the following instrumentals, they styles come and go as quickly as they appear, but the chopped-up jazz samples are consistent, acting as a base for each track. Ellison’s ability to seamlessly blend snippets of the past, present and future is what has made him a unique artist, and this ability is still deafeningly obvious.
This opening of fantastic tracks culminates with the albums second single, ‘Never Catch Me’, a collaboration with Kendrick Lamar. Compton’s good kid’s Midas touch continues with the verses he provides for Flying Lotus’ wandering and morphing track. As the speed builds, dropping the piano chords for trap claps, Lamar’s lines become more frantic in an attempt to keep up with an amphetamine-bass riff; but then back to the piano and another chopped and screwed beat builds.
It’s a shame that the highlight of the record comes only 8 minutes in. It’s also a shame that it’s followed by one of the blandest moments, but what could we expect of a collaboration with the Snoop Dogg of late? The intricacy of the previous tracks has vanished on ‘Dead Man’s Tetris’, clunky beats and repetitive samples – yeah, the album’s called ‘You’re Dead!’ – are overlain with Snoop’s relaxed, and ultimately dull, lines.
The series of eight instrumentals which occupy the groove until the next collaboration, the non-event of ‘Decent into Madness’ with Thundercat, ebb and flow with tempo and style. You are taken in by undulating synths and repetitive bell chimes. The meditation is broken by some sci-fi beats. These reform before your ears and you are again gently swaying. The climax of these woozy instrumentals is Flying Lotus’ uncredited collaboration with Herbie Hancock, ‘Moment of Hesitation’. The track is a tight little jazz number which Ellison has twiddled his knobs over. What should be out of place on an electronic record sits well. The track really highlights the similarities in Flying Lotus and Hancock’s practises, and coalesces the samples used throughout ‘You’re Dead!’ in a satisfying way.
After another lacklustre collaboration, this time with FlyLo’s alter ego Captain Murphy, the record slows down and we are left with a repeating gospel sample, “We will live on, forever”, before the needle lifts and ends Flying Lotus’ study of death.
A frustrating record, ‘You’re Dead!’ is let down with its collaborations and these, unfortunately, occupy the foreground when the LP comes back to mind. Lamar and Hancock’s appearances are extraordinary, as are a number of the small instrumental numbers, but these again are punctuated with mediocrity.