Flying Lotus has spent a good half decade now confounding expectations by taking huge leaps in sound, from the dazzling instrumental hip hop of Los Angeles, through the space-bound, jazz-inflected chaos of Cosmogramma, through to the more considered and comparatively stripped-down majesty of Until The Quiet Comes.

Despite his admirable insistence on sticking to his guns and never taking the easy route, Flying Lotus’ profile has continued to grow at a similar pace to his artistry. Now that he’s on the verge of something approaching stardom, he has returned with You’re Dead, an extended meditation on a post-mortal experience from a man who has, by his own admittance, lost too many loved ones at such a young age. In short, he is back to bend your mind again.


You’re Dead begins with a dense, haunting drone (the sound of crossing over, I suppose, if you want to run with the metaphor) before suddenly collapsing into breakbeats, hard jazz, ghostly voices, keyboard runs courtesy of none other than Herbie Hancock, and a frantic guitar riff.

And that’s just the first five minutes of the album.

If you came expecting a distillation of the Flying Lotus sound, you might be shocked to hear that You’re Dead is actually the sound of all of Ellison’s influences and interests exploding in chaotic Technicolor. If anything, this is a spiritual cousin of Cosmogramma, but one whose destination is somewhere beyond time and space.

The album only begins to settle down with “Never Catch Me” featuring the much-lauded cameo appearance from Kendrick Lamar. His rapid-fire rhymes, coupled with the gentlest piano motif underneath typically brain-frazzling bass from regular collaborator Thundercat (whose fingerprints are all over those wild early moments), turns the song into one of the album’s absolute highlights, and that’s coming from a Kendrick agnostic.

“Dead Man’s Tetris” is the goofy counterpart, with Ellison himself (under the guise of alter-ego Captain Murphy) trading rhymes with Snoop Dogg over 8-bit game samples. It’s proof that while he may be taking the concept and his work very seriously, he thankfully doesn’t treat himself with humorless reverence. It is that humility and hunger for collaboration with a hugely talented supporting cast that seems to rein him in at any point when the music threatens to simply collapse into self-indulgence.

The fact that You’re Dead avoids that pitfall is testament to Ellison’s remarkable skill for editing and composition, not to mention the clarity of his vision. An awful lot of ground is covered in the album’s 38 minutes, but nothing feels under-cooked or over-extended. At times it can be slightly suffocating in its conception, but at least he has the good sense to slow the pace down for the middle section, a suite that features the irresistible back-to-back of “Coronus, The Terminator,” whose hip-hop groove and gospel backdrop are a glorious switch in pace, and “Siren Song,” which comes complete with oddly soothing vocal contributions from Angel Deradoorian.

The album’s latter half has a darker edge, beginning with the stuttering patterns of “Ready Err Not,” but most prominently in the double bill of the unsettling “Descent Into Madness” and the frankly creepy “The Boys Who Died In Their Sleep,” which contains what is undoubtedly the strangest and most memorable vocal contribution of Ellison’s career so far. Despite that, there is time for one last shift in tone for the lush exhalation of the album’s final few minutes.

Every Flying Lotus album I have listened to (from Los Angeles onwards) has left me playing catch up after a first listen, doubting whether there is enough cohesion, and every one of them has slowly revealed the generosity of its creator, an artist for whom the full-length album is the perfect form of expression.

The fact that this wonderfully bonkers celebration of life after death is Flying Lotus’ fourth home run in a row just confirms that he is one of his generation’s true visionaries. It remains our pleasure to be part of the journey to see where his apparently boundless imagination will take him next.

Tickets for Flying Lotus’ show at The Wiltern on November 14th are still available.

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