Flying Lotus makes his return with a concept album that is executed exceptionally well, making for arguably the greatest accomplishment in his career thus far.
It’s a tradition at this point. Every two years we’re going to be treated to a Flying Lotus album that changes the way we look at instrumental music. I hesitate to call it instrumental hip-hop because it’s so much more than just a collection of beats. Yet grouping it under the electronic umbrella doesn’t seem fitting either with live instrumentation playing such a crucial part of the sound. However you choose to describe it really doesn’t matter anyway. You’re dead.
Whether you’ve been a long term fan or you stumbled across his beats while watching late night Adult Swim or by turning the dial to FlyLo FM, you know that his sound is eccentric. To say a Flying Lotus album sounds unlike anything before it would be redundant, but You’re Dead! might be the furthest FlyLo has ever ventured from what’s expected. If Cosmogramma was Flying Lotus toying around with bringing heavy amounts of jazz into his hip-hop rooted IDM, You’re Dead! is him fully embracing that sound and giving his take on what a jazz fusion album should sound like in 2014.
FlyLo collaborates with a number of artists to achieve the sound of the full band, bringing the bass expertise of good friend Thundercat, the harmonizing vocals of Niki Randa, drums from Ronald Bruner, and contributions from so many others. Herbie Hancock is on the album as well, not just on the two tracks he contributed his haunting keys to, but in heavily influencing the experimental jazz flavor across the whole album.
You’re Dead! is an album that pays close attention to detail and asks that you pay it close attention in return to get the full experience. Spanning under six minutes total, the first four tracks are frantic brewings of horns, synths, drums, and the sorts that slowly build into the momentous climax of the first act, “Never Catch Me”. Kendrick Lamar is the first voice heard on the album, delivering a verse that brings the album’s concept into focus in case the title and macabre opening didn’t give it away. “Never Catch Me” is certainly the most easily accessible track and one of the highlights that will keep you coming back, but it truly shines in the context of the album. The entire LP flows this way, with one track working with the next to set the tone.
The album starts at the moment of your death, welcoming you to the afterlife with a disconcerting chant and a wave of unsettling instrumentation. Every note is dedicated to this concept, carrying the mood from start to finish with no deviation. However, this theme of passing is not nearly as morbid as it seems. The album starts with a feeling of panic, but progresses into a moment of clarity. Eventually learning to leave your ego behind with your body, you ease into accepting your new role after life on Earth before ultimately fully embracing it. The execution of the concept is similar to undun in that Lotus is able to have the theme be ever-present without forcing the narrative down the listener’s throat.
That Flying Lotus is able to convey such a clear theme on an album with so few words is a testament to his wizardry as a visionary. Few concept albums are able to transmit their message so vividly. You’re Dead! isn’t just telling a story, it’s taking your spirit on an excursion through time and space, grabbing a confused soul and showing it peace. When you are drug back to reality you’ll be aware of the fact that you’re a flesh pilot on a rock floating through the infinite. No you’re not. You’re dead.
If you venture a bit into the personal life of Flying Lotus, the theme behind this album becomes that much heavier. At just 30 years old, FlyLo has already witnessed the passing of both parents. The death of friend and Brainfeeder signee Austin Peralta less than two years ago still haunts him to this day (inspiring the title of “The Boys Who Died in Their Sleep”). As if the album needed an eerier background, the scare of FlyLo’s collapse on a hotel floor just days after turning in the finished album is simply too uncanny. I don’t know if you can say someone is qualified to make an album about the moment after death, but if anyone deserves that tag it’s FlyLo.
For a concept album to be this thorough is a rare feat. It’s noteworthy enough that You’re Dead! can pull off its theme so faithfully, but what makes it a great album is that it sounds fantastic. The elements of jazz, hip-hop, and IDM blend together to create a soundscape that is anomalously captivating. Made up of 19 tracks that cover less than 40 minutes, You’re Dead! powers ahead at a quick pace, never dwelling on any one sound for too long. As “The Protest” fades out, “Theme” is calling for you to hit repeat and dive back in for another 40-minute voyage. If you look at the five-album span of FlyLo’s discography as one larger work, You’re Dead! acts as the grand culmination. It’s hard telling where he’ll go next, but as his track record indicates, Lotus will build off his past experiences and flip everything on its head. You’re Dead! is arguably his most imposing album thus far. Now he’s put the pressure on himself to come back in two years and top it.