Steven Ellison, also known as Flying Lotus, has consistently put out great music since his 2008 breakthrough album Los Angeles. Newcomers to Flying Lotus’s music might find the artwork and themes associated with You’re Dead! to be disturbing, (it’s okay, Pharrell did too). Ellison commissioned Shintaro Kago to create original artwork for every track on the record and even put together a visually stunning teaser for Ellison’s fifth studio album.
While Flying Lotus has been known to incorporate jazz into his music, You’re Dead! is his jazziest record to date, (he is the great nephew of the late jazz pianist Alice Coltrane and her husband saxophonist John Coltrane.) It even includes jazz legend Herbie Hancock on two of its tracks, adding keys to its rhythm section. Originally, You’re Dead! started out as a separate jazz project under a different name, but came together with Flying Lotus’s trademark hip hop style. This is why we see big names from collaborators including Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dog, and Captain Murphy, (Steven Ellison’s rap alter ego).
The album kicks off with the opening track “Theme” which builds up with strings adding suspense for what is to come before it breaks into jazz guitar and saxophone. On the first five tracks, it’s easy to forget for a moment that this is a Flying Lotus record, as Ellison has crafted something different and unexpected, akin to Miles Davis. “Dead Man’s Tetris” kicks in with guest verses from Snoop Dog and Captain Murphy, reminding listeners that this is still a Flying Lotus album and that there will be wonky beats. It explicitly lays out the themes of the record with a distorted Murphy voice rapping about death.
His music has come a long way and evolved since his early days of making beats for Adult Swim’s bumps, but still retains his trippy psychedelic qualities. “Coronus, The Terminator” (which you can listen to above,) is a great example of this with it’s woozy beats, infectious groove, soulful backup vocals, and psychedelic production. “Descent Into Madness” (which features frequent collaborator Thundercat who is signed on FlyLo’s record label Brainfeeder and is on bass throughout the album,) is the most jarring track on the record with Thundercat’s falsetto warning that there is no escape.
You’re Dead! contains 19 tracks and is just barely under 40 minutes and at times suffers for it. There are two tracks under a minute that serve more as interludes and could stand to be longer. The first single off the record “Never Catch Me feat. Kendrick Lamar” would be better left off as an instrumental. On the closing track “The Protest” Ellison builds up a gorgeous arrangement of vocals before it breaks into a classic FlyLo beat, a nod to his earlier music and the late beat maker J Dilla, but just as you start to get into the groove of his music it ends all too soon. Flying Lotus has used his sonic palette to create a journey through the afterlife as death into one experience that we can all share.
You’re Dead! is out October 7 via Warp Records, and you can pre-order the vinyl here.