Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, scares me. He scares me because I want to believe that electronic music will never replace music made by living people performing in real time on tangible instruments, simply because electronic music, while cool and interesting, will never be able to make the same human connection that organic music makes on a regular basis. When listening to “You’re Dead!,” however, such a notion becomes difficult to cling to. Ellison has basically cut & pasted, produced, manipulated and artificially constructed an album that lives, breathes and terrifies. “You’re Dead!” is a masterpiece, and an incredibly disconcerting one at that.
Like some sort of lysergically altered curator at the grand museum of pop culture, Flying Lotus cherry-picks an unholy host of disparate bits and pieces and fuses them together into something new. In the past, Ellison came across as slightly more conventional, grabbing bits of EDM, dub-step and alternative rock, throwing them into a blender and punching the puree button. This time, however, he has a deeply emotional tale to tell, and he’s leaning heavily on classic jazz fusion and free jazz to tell that story. It’s a story about facing death in order to truly feel alive, but that’s almost beside the point, for so dizzying is the roller coaster ride Ellison has constructed that you can lose yourself in the sheer vertiginous joy of it all without even worrying about “the big concept.”
The likes of Herbie Hancock and Snoop Dogg show up as composers and/or featured artists, as do Kendrick Lamar and soul-jazz bassist/guitarist Thundercat. All contribute to the fractured and frantic conception, which of course, belongs to Ellison who presides above it all as the ultimate master of puppets. “You’re Dead!” is less an album than a peek into its creator’s psyche, or at the very least, an invitation of unfettered access to his record collection. Electronic music fans are being challenged here – if they don’t like jazz, and expect the beats to stay firmly within the prescribed limits of comfortable time signatures, they’re outta luck. Flying Lotus seems to be suggesting that anything resembling linear narrative progression – in music as in life – is merely wishful thinking.
So here we have it. With “You’re Dead!” Flying Lotus has crafted the “Kid A” of electronic music. Ellison is walking on virgin earth here.
- Jeff Miers