Flying Lotus: You’re Dead!

source: Flying Lotus

Text Khalid Azizuddin

We thought a lot about death in adolescence. Every ache and twinge was an obscure illness rearing up to do us in. Time and maturity flipped that neurosis around. We are now possessed of the arrogant courage of early American settlers, convinced of our indispensable role in some divine scheme. Still, some nights we become (once again) conscious of our heartbeat and its plodding countdown. Unwilling to add to the knotty issues already simmering in our subconscious, we approached Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus’ fifth LP You’re Dead! with trepidation. The rather camp cover art by guro mangaka Shintaro Kago did little to assuage anxiety, portraying as it does a head with the face cut out as distressed, injured men prowl the borders seemingly in thrall to Dante’s Inferno. Along with the crisscrossing capillaries and chakra points, it does not seem indicative of a mature and subtle work.

Much like his previous releases, You’re Dead! was initially conceived as a jazz record and this embryonic hangover is wholly apparent in the strands of the final product. There is a tendency to fall in line and overplay his lineage (Steven Ellison is the nephew to jazz musician Alice Coltrane), but only because of the casual familiarity with the genre’s grammar on display here. In moments of high drama, frictionless guitar solos bumblebee atop walking bass lines and the snare’s untiring patter as flurries of sax and keys chronicle the narrative. While each instrument was recorded in isolation, a towering aptitude in postproduction has ensured the cohesion of these set pieces throughout. The lack of proximity has not undermined the quality of these collaborations or the pedigree of the collaborators (Herbie Hancock [!], Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg/Lion, Angel Deradoorian, et al).

The saturated aesthetic of jazz does not grant much autonomy to the listener and this allows Ellison to get a lot across in the relatively short runtime of the album. Ease of consumption is also helped by the brief, g-funk-indebted transitory pieces that provide essential moments of calm and keep the whiplash in check. Fixated on death though it may be, this is very much for the living; no dirt stained fibula can tap toes to the chunky piecemeal synth of ‘Dead Man’s Tetris’, no earthworm-inhabited skull can nod to the woody percussion of ‘Ready Err Not’, no centipede-sheltering hipbone can bump‘n’grind to the big soul of ‘Coronus, The Terminator’. Across time, one recalls a belligerent Dylan Thomas:

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

You’re Dead! appeals because it is a fairly triumphant attempt at rendering impotent the tragedy of death. This is not done by obscuring the bleak and grotesque, but by entwining them with contrasting narrative threads (all equally vivid) to address “the physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living.” The listener is now free to choose between his own or Flying Lotus’ conception of mortality. That such a decision need be made is testament to an outstanding piece of work.

LISTEN TO: ‘Coronus, The Terminator’

1. Theme
2. Tesla
3. Cold Dead
4. Fkn Dead
5. Never Catch Me (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
6. Dead Man’s Tetris (feat. Captain Murphy and Snoop Dogg)
7. Turkey Dog Coma
8. Stirring
9. Coronus, the Terminator
10. Siren Song (feat. Angel Deradoorian)
11. Turtles
12. Ready err Not
13. Eyes Above
14. Moments of Hesitation
15. Descent Into Madness (feat. Thundercat)
16. The Boys Who Died In Their Sleep (feat. Captain Murphy)
17. Obligatory Cadence
18. Your Potential/The Beyond (feat. Niki Randa)
19. The Protest