Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
At 9:24 a.m. on Oct. 14, @beflygelt tweeted, “@flyinglotus: just wanted to let you know that you got me [into] Miles Davis and Herbie and Jazz in general with your latest project! Thx for that <3.” With a simple retweet, the enigmatic genius — whose ear for the unexpected and willingness to eschew popular form shaped his bonafide masterpiece, You’re Dead! — acknowledged the remarkable role into which he has stepped.
He has undeniably integrated himself, personally forming a strong fiber in the thread of Black popular music, connecting contemporary listeners directly with musical elements, themes and traditions often harder to uncover in today’s musical mainstream. Yet he is no ethnomusicologist, dissecting culture from the outside and presenting it through amber-encased audio specimens. To the contrary, he creates from the center of these traditions, taking the listener’s hand and pulling him or her into a pulsating maze that leaves the listener both peacefully content and curious about the sources from which FlyLo has been birthed.
In an interview with Noisey, Flying Lotus expressed his nagging concern about his audience’s ability to understand the underlying complexity of the album’s celebratory spirit, stating, “I hope that [understanding] comes across when people actually hear it.” Rather than simplify the sonic ideas or conceptual framework, he trusts that the Hendrixian electric guitar riffs on “Cold Dead,” the hard-bop saxophone on “Turkey Dog Coma” and “Moment of Hesitation,” the church choir- infused vocals on “Coronus, The Terminator,” the Kendrick Lamar-kilt “Never Catch Me” or the syrupy raps of the iconic Snoop Dogg on “Dead Man’s Tetris” will pull the listener in and challenge him or her to question what these jazz, blues, gospel and hip-hop elements are all about.
He can employ these elements with authenticity, ambition and skill because they form the foundations of both his toolbox and his identity as a lifelong participant in this culture. No nephew of the Coltranes and grandson of Marilyn McLeod, who wrote Diana Ross’s “Love Hangover” and Freda Payne’s “I Get High (On Your Memory),” could develop into an adult without absorbing the virtuosity of his elders. Now that he’s a so-called elder in the infantophilic pop landscape, he is leading — and creating — by example, with one foot tapping in the past and his third eye in hyperdrive.
Oh, and his inclusive vision for others would awe even one Kanye West, who most consider to be a master orchestrator. With You’re Dead!, Mr. Ellison leapfrogs beyond Yeezus, arranging what might be the best album of the last two years.
Cultural analysis aside, the critical toeholds upon which a reviewer can usually rely are hard to find on You’re Dead! because Flying Lotus is a master at evoking an emotional response from the listener. Rather than break down his grand, grinningly macabre statement on death in intellectual terms, it becomes more appealing to simply follow the soulful peaks and valleys he has carved out of an entire landscape’s disparate sounds.
From the symphonic opening announcement on “Theme” that could shake the windows and rattle the walls of an auditorium, the listener has no choice but to follow the journey through the moments of hesitation and the descents into madness. When the final synth note sounds, and the spell is broken, listeners like @beflygelt may find themselves looking around and wondering from where and when such an otherworldly experience could have come. Then, appreciation and curiosity in hand, those folks may embark on new journey through the rich musical roots from which Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead! has grown. The man’s no beatsmith — he’s an architect, true to form, and his designs are breathtaking.
5 out of 5
You can purchase You’re Dead! on Amazon.