Each subsequent full-length album that Flying Lotus has released seems to start with a personal connection that’s grown more all-encompassing the further he gets into his career. From his year of birth, he moved on to the city he found his musical identity in, then out to the very structure of the universe, then deeper inside to the inner world of dreams and the subconscious. His fifth album, You’re Dead!, has the stated theme of the one thing every single human has in common, and just about every conceivable style of music is prone to address: the inevitability and condition of death, and how mysterious it really is.
Like many people who’ve grown past 30 years old, Steven Ellison has lost some important people in his life. Specifically, they were artistic inspirations—from collaborators like Austin Peralta to influences like J Dilla to blood relatives like Alice Coltrane—formative catalysts that made his music and his life what it is. Coltrane in particular is frequently brought up as a familial connection to Ellison, but even if she weren’t his great-aunt, her meditative way of being in the world and putting forth music as a way of spiritual connection has carried through deeply into Ellison’s own art, even when it appears irreverent or cartoon-ridiculous on the surface.
The title of You’re Dead! has that exclamation point for a reason, though. While the spirits of his friends, family, and peers weigh heavy throughout this album, the music itself is frequently light and sometimes shamelessly goofy, treating mortality with the irreverence and fascination of anything inescapable and unknowable. There’s little that’s morbid and even less that’s melancholy about it. In the context of coping with The Other Side, it all feels a lot more like a wake than a funeral.
And consider the guests at this particular wake: pianist Herbie Hancock, likely legacy-minded as he continues to branch out and find new musical environments through his seventies; rappers Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar, the latter whose insight towards death has the subtle heft of somebody who’s cheated it while being well aware of those who didn’t; guitarist Brendon Small, whose involvement in the gory cartoon absurdity of “Metalocalypse” prepped him well for an album that sounds equally informed by Slayer and Raymond Scott. Even the album art and promotional visuals, provided by the body-horror guro manga artist Shintaro Kago, revels in the idea of nightmarish evisceration and dismemberment rendered with an almost playful slapstick weirdness.
The theme sticks out as the most consistent element of You’re Dead!, since it’s far and away the most free-ranging FlyLo album to date. And yet the album doesn’t sprawl out of control, maybe because it doesn’t really have the time to: the whole record clocks in at just over 38 minutes, all jolts of sound and quick bursts of motifs. The fleeting cross-sections of chopped-to-bits fusion jazz strung together over the first five minutes—the ascendant cosmic drone and black hole collapse of “Theme”, the fast-forward bop of Hancock collab “Tesla”, and the careening hesher-Sharrock guitar licks of “Cold Dead”—flow from buzz-cluttered headspaces to spacious serenity so unexpectedly yet naturally that the seams never show. (The live-band personnel—including prog/jazz superdrummer Deantoni Parks, Ayler-school saxophonist Kamasi Washington, and ever-present partner/bass wizard Thundercat—do a masterful job in turning concentrated doses of high-speed, complicated chops into giddy bursts of euphoric adrenaline.) Kendrick Lamar’s virtuoso obstacle-course run through the d’n’b-tweaking “Never Catch Me” is the closest there is to a centerpiece statement of the album (“Analyze my demise, I say I’m super anxious/ Recognize I deprive this fear and then embrace it”). But the tonal 180 into the buoyant, kind of tipsy/faded Captain Murphy/Snoop Dogg teamup “Dead Man’s Tetris”—complete with a riff-echoing gun-cock collage and Street Fighter II K.O. SFX—is less of a jarring shock than a knowing counterpoint.
From there, the album’s remaining path through prog, fusion, IDM, and ambient all feels like a necessary comedown, shot through with moments at the precipice of chaos or deliberate ugliness (like the pill-popper nightmare of Captain Murphy croak-wailing through “The Boys Who Died in Their Sleep”), but still resiliently calm in the face of death. Ellison’s once-sparse use of others’ voices is especially haunting at points—Angel Deradoorian’s breathily manipulated into weaving through wispy psychedelic soul like some minimalist version of Pink Floyd‘s “The Great Gig in the Sky”, or Niki Randa harmonizing at a distant horizon through “Your Potential//The Beyond”. A lighter hand, even when it’s punching up bass drones or pushing through dense walls of complex instrumental interplay, makes the end-of-humanity choral hymn “Coronus, the Terminator” and the pull between intense rhythm and delicate melody on “Moment of Hesitation” feel infused with just as much wonder and awe as foreboding.
There’s the idea expressed through You’re Dead!—intentional or otherwise—that making a life’s work with the full knowledge of death as the final limiting factor is a strong motivator. Flying Lotus has the notion that death should be the only limiting factor, and when he’s put out a work that wrings beauty out of that very thing, what’s the point of fearing anything?
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1xfGRcQ