Flying Lotus You're Dead Warp Records
When Flying Lotus first started making waves, there was pretty unanimous critical agreement that he was the figurehead for a loosely defined new era in electronic music, bookended by the syncopated, psychedelic sunbeams and bass emissions of Los Angeles on one side of the Atlantic, and the spiralling derivatives of dubstep on the other. He’s since continued to push ever-further into the realm of the transcendental, and rhythmically ever closer to the experimental jazz aesthetics of his family past. With his fifth LP You’re Dead, we’re now experiencing pure, unadulterated Flying Lotus.
Quite an experience it is too. From the astonishing cover design (by the Japanese artist Shintaro Kago, who also illustrated every individual track), to the thorough exploration of the album’s central theme (death, the afterlife and the ambiguity in between, ideas familiar from his previous two long players), this is a piece of work that is designed to be immersive. The portentous opening Theme sets the tone: sweeping and sensual. The album then swings wildly between fast-moving jazz structures, crunching electric guitar flashes and Herbie Hancock’s Fender Rhodes flourishes, before bumping into the first vocal collaborator (Kendrick Lamar) for an intense few verses.
The amazingly named Dead Man’s Tetris features a claustrophobic duet between FlyLo (in his Captain Murphy guise) and Snoop Dogg, and the haunting Siren Song plunges the delicate vocals of Angel Deradoorian into a beautiful abyss. The middle third of You’re Dead! is more reflective and less relentless than the first; the calm after the storm of facing up to mortality, perhaps. Throughout, there is a fluid relationship between the rhythmic, vocal and melodic elements of the compositions: a staccato beat picks up where a rapper’s verse leaves off; a bassline lurches into the foreground to give the percussion a break. There are distinct tracks, but large chunks of the album could easily be considered sprawling yet coherent wholes. As FlyLo puts it, he wanted to make “a jazz record that feels new”.
By the time Thundercat’s now familiar falsetto enters the fray, the theme of the album’s final section is signalled: spooky, sedate and serene. And as the final collaborator Niki Randa whispers sweet nothings over a swaying saunter towards the light at the end of the tunnel, the journey is complete. A 38-minute soundtrack to meeting your maker, courtesy of the one and only Flying Lotus.