In a musical world filled to the brim with ambiguous sub-genres and off-brand sounds, it isn’t every day that an artist is able to melt together three completely different genres and weld the final product into something completely original.
Steven Ellison, otherwise known as the multi-instrumentalist and producer Flying Lotus, has molded a craft that is both adventurous and tantalizing — but most importantly, completely different.
The West Coast-based musician has a sound that sways from relaxing and groovy to so fast and furious you may think you’re having an aneurysm halfway through the song. A delicious concoction of nearly every form of jazz, electronica and hip-hop, FlyLo’s sound is unlike any other artist (it should be mentioned Ellison comes from a line of innovative musicians: his aunt and uncle were jazz greats Alice and John Coltrane).
With his fifth release, “You’re Dead!” (Warp Records), the artist continues to push boundaries — thematically and musically — with a record about the afterlife that offers hard-bop jazz sharing space with heavy, chaotic hip-hop beats.
Compared to his past work, this record falls into the free-jazz, hard-bop velocity 2010’s “Cosmogramma” while still having shades of the more luscious, fluid sounds of 2006’s “1983” and 2012’s “Until the Quiet Comes.” Yet, as a cultivation of everything he has released so far in his career — including his doom-rap alter ego Captain Murphy’s debut album — ”You’re Dead!” has the feel of an album Ellison’s been working towards achieving throughout his career. It functions as the new, old and classic FlyLo and leaves that familiar taste for more.
The album’s most complex feature is the almost endless amount of ideas splattered across its musical canvas. Eleven of the 19 tracks come in at under two minutes, so the sporadic nature of Ellison’s vision is prominent on “Dead!”
Yet, as a full album, listened to from the first second to the last, this record weaves within the conflicting sounds and elements to come together as one exquisite piece of mortality commentary.
The guest list for “Dead!” is fantastic, with FlyLo’s usual collaborator and friend Thundercat supplying the acid-jazz, improv-reliant bass that gives the album the feeling of turbulent beauty mixed with mellowed-out intoxication. In addition to Thundercat, the album includes the brilliant helping hands of Snoop Dogg (the drippy, druggy “Dead Man’s Tetris”) and jazz-fusion titan Herbie Hancock.
“Never Catch Me,” the Kendrick Lamar-featured and strongest track off the record, opens with a gentle piano riff that evolves into a bass-tempered groove and holds K-Dot spewing out wisdom like a fire eater after eating a moldy enchilada, rapping, “I can see the darkness in me and it's quite amazing/Life and death is no mystery and I wanna taste it.” “Never Catch Me” is the collaboration that hip-hop lovers deserve. It matches the fast and fluctuating production of FlyLo with the unbelievably quick delivery Lamar has made his name with.
With this latest release, Flying Lotus has continued his legacy as one of the most inventive artists in the last 10 years, combining the sounds of psychedelic music and old-school jazz with electronic and hip-hop production, proving yet again he’s a mad genius. It gets scary, hairy and a little overwhelming at times, but, holy hellfire, is this a good album.