To anyone not in the know, Flying Lotus (Steven Ellison to his friends) has been one of the premier up-and-coming figures in the L.A. music scene for several years now, and he’s out to solidify his reputation on a fifth full-length album. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who actively dislikes this artist, and it’d be difficult to throw a rock in any circle of music-lovers without hitting one of his many fans. With You’re Dead!, Lotus continues his trend of pushing genres inside-out to create a body of work that blurs the boundaries of DJ, producer, composer and performer.
The opening tracks bring a feel that is distinctly Squarepusher-esque, with a sound that has a strong flavor of experimental jazz fusion. Intricately meandering bass lines lay into tight and glitchy percussive rhythms with the occasional shot of piano or power chord melody on tracks like the breakout “Tesla.” The album then wanders into hip-hop and soul territory, often merging genres with such seamless grace that it sounds effortless. “Cronus, The Terminator” pushes the energy way down, almost to a standstill, with soulful harmonies that evoke The Temptations. Yet it won’t be long before the energy is ramped up again in a taut jostling that feels like an elegantly reckless joyride.
With an all-star roster of collaborators and guest artists including the likes of Snoop Dogg, Herbie Hancock, Kendrick Lamar and Ennio Morricone, it’s no small wonder that this album is one of Lotus’ most exciting and dynamic to date. This bevy of influences comes together in total harmony and seldom hits a single sour note. As the record works through its 19 tracks, it feels surprisingly brief. At just under 40 minutes, it’s not exactly an odyssey, but by the time it’s through, you’ll definitely feel like you’ve been on a ride.
Yet for all its energy and fun, You’re Dead! is very much an elegy. Death is a theme running through many of its twists and turns, and there are many allusions to things and people lost, including Lotus’ late aunt Alice Coltrane — hence the heavy jazz vibes pervading much of the album. Just don’t confuse the downer themes with downer music. Loss and pain have been the catalysts of some of the best works of art in history, and there’s nothing in Flying Lotus’ latest that makes an exception to that rule. Naturally, it’s a bit early to call You’re Dead! some of the best music in history, but it’s absolutely some of the best of the year.