Album Review by Neud Kiros
Steven Ellison, known as Flying Lotus or by his rap persona, Captain Murphy, is one of the most intriguing artists out right now. He’s a pioneer of this new age that puts less emphasis on genre, and more on creating a journey for the listener to experience. His fifth album, “You’re Dead!”, is the latest example of the type of narrative that can be created through music. It’s a concept album that explores death and everything that it entails. His moody musings craft a standout piece that excellently balances the anticipation, fear, and sometimes, the beauty of death.
For the uninitiated, here’s a crash course on FlyLo: his sound is best described as a mixture of electronic jazz and trance hip-hop. He creates the musical form of a psychedelic trip with his wavy, space-age compositions. Yet, at the same time, it’s the type of stuff that gets played between NPR segments. His songs often forgo lyrics in favor of showcasing the instrumentation. The closest comparison I can make would be Aphex Twin.
There are nineteen tracks, but with eleven of them under two minutes, “You’re Dead!” clocks in at a measly thirty-eight minutes. Some listeners may have a problem with the brevity, but for an album with so few lyrics, it can become hard to stay engaged throughout a longer song. The length keeps it concise and focused, which is always a good thing. It’s better to be criticized for failing to fully explore your ideas than for overstaying your welcome.
The opening track “Theme” sounds like it belongs in a Pokémon gym battle. This sets the tone for the first few tracks which epitomize controlled chaos. There are moving pieces everywhere and a frenetic sense of disorientation. Towards the end of “Turkey Dog Coma” though, the album transitions into its own food coma and settles down smoothly into a set of soundscapes and ambient music. As Brian Eno, fellow Warp labelmate of FlyLo, famously said of ambient music, it’s “as ignorable as it is interesting.” This section of the album flows effortlessly and lasts until “Descent Into Madness” where the album, (not) shockingly, becomes a bit darker. The last track, “The Protest”, ends the album beautifully on a note of optimism. It fades out into the abyss with wispy vocals chanting “We will live on…forever, forever…” and caps off the ride through the mind of Flying Lotus.
This album has a deep, almost sinister intensity that eerily keeps you transfixed to what’s going to happen next and that goes for the visuals as well. A 24-hour stream of the album was released on YouTube a week before the actual release date titled “Psychedelic Death Trip”. It features the music paired with grotesque depictions of the dismembered human body over trippy backdrops and scenes straight out of a Buddhist hell. It’s incredibly hypnotic and adds an entire dimension to this already rich and immersive album. The video has been made private on YouTube, but hopefully it’s repackaged in some form and redistributed. Maybe FlyLo has bigger plans for this project to make it more than just a piece of music. The video of the birth story of Captain Murphy would also suggest so. Perhaps FlyLo is building a canon of scripture for an entire mythos. Regardless, it will be interesting to see the direction he takes with the post-release material.
Flying Lotus is the Jackson Pollack of musicians. Very few can compete at the level at which he threads multiple elements into cohesive tracks and albums. His music is amazingly layered and this album is no exception. Everyone should do themselves a favor and listen to this album, in its entirety, in one go on a rainy day or a late night. You’ll thank me later.
You can watch the album trailer here: http://vimeo.com/103317489
Fun Fact: FlyLo is the nephew of Alice Coltrane and through marriage, John Coltrane