Written as an exploration of Jazz from beyond his imagined grave, You’re Dead! is the latest full length release from L.A. based experimental Hip-Hop producer Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus. Having been at the helm for several excellent releases in the past few years, 2008’s Los Angeles, 2010’s Cosmogramma, and 2012’s Until the Quiet Comes, FlyLo has been coping with the expectation of consistency well.
He lives up to his track record with You’re Dead!, a record far more flowing and seamless than his previous efforts. He opens the door for many more contributors than on his other releases, featuring full blown rap verses for the first time either by himself in his rapping guise of Captain Murphy, or excellent features courtesy of Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar. Dirty Projectors’ Angel Deradoorian and long-time associate Thundercat are among the other contributors. Despite this relatively new angle, FlyLo is still at his best without vocal contributions beyond pure sound – adding lyrics only really serves to distract from the intelligence of his instrumentation.
You’re Dead! remains consistent throughout its 38 minutes – a comparatively shorter record than we’re used to from FlyLo, and this is its most significant fault. On many of the tracks – only two of which are over three minutes long – FlyLo reaches a brilliant point, only to kill the track dead rather than elaborating on the ideas. There is a lot of unrealised potential with the material here – a remix record would be interesting to see.
The bite-sized chunks on this record will draw many comparisons to works like J Dilla’s Donuts, for example, and these are not unjustified. However, the strength of Dilla’s work is for each of his tracks to stand alone as well as it does operate as a whole – FlyLo’s pieces work extremely well in sequence, but the tracks don’t quite carry the same weight taken alone. Never Catch Me – the single with Kendrick Lamar – is the first thing one really notices about this album, and it’s hard to believe it is the fifth track. Whatever FlyLo was hoping to achieve with the four tiny introductory tracks, it hasn’t quite come off – although Never Catch Me certainly fits better in this context.
FlyLo has never shied away from big themes on his releases – the nature of the universe, dreams, roots, life, and as the title on this would suggest, death. Though in this case, You’re Dead! remains light-hearted and free-spirited, with the theme loosely connecting all the parts together. FlyLo dances through different genres – Prog, Jazz-fusion, IDM, D’n’B, ambient – with the skill and technical ability of a producer firmly established as a veteran in the scene. And for the most part, it works.
You leave You’re Dead! wanting more, and repeated listens will certainly reveal the intricacies in production Flying Lotus went through. But, despite the high points on this album, you come away feeling as if it was so near to becoming an instant classic, with just a few too many shortcomings.