Flying Lotus: You’re Dead!
Electronic music’s earliest artists distinguished themselves by a certain purity. They had only a few simple synthesizers, editing instruments, and samplers with which to compose, giving their music a stark minimalism. Digital tools have caused a profound shift in how electronic music gets made, and Flying Lotus is one of the prime examples of this trend. His music can be best described as jazz reinterpreted as sound collage. Chaotic and eclectic, his music thrives on jagged transitions, surprising clashes between sounds, and a playful, even mystical futurism. His new album is entitled “You’re Dead!” and packs nineteen frantic tracks into 38 minutes. Bewildering even when the mood becomes chill and calm, it is a delightful adventure for those willing to accept a storm of ideas that often remain unfinished.
Flying Lotus’ most distinctive musical hallmarks are firstly rhythmic. As heard in tracks like “Cold Dead,” “Turkey Dog Coma,” and “Tesla,” the bass and percussion often take the lead. Overlapping rhythmic elements create a denseity of sound that aims for overwhelming. This instability makes it difficult to approach “You’re Dead!” from a cerebral point of view, and impossible to put it on as background music. Even where the album diverts into quieter songs, the songs maintain the unease characteristic of his work. “Descent into Madness,” which features the bass and vocal work of frequent collaborator and virtuoso Thundercat, would be calm if not for the way the vocals and guitar track mirror each other. With vague titles and few discernible vocals other than occasional rap verses, the songs stand or fall on how impressive their sounds are. On that count, “You’re Dead!” rarely stumbles.
Speaking of rap verses, Flying Lotus contributes his own vocals as well as production here. His rapper persona is Captain Murphy, named after a character in the Adam Reed parody show “Sealab 2021.” Like everything in his music, his rap style is highly abstract, being either barely intellgible as in “The Boys Who Died in Their Sleep” or comical and absurd as in “Dead Man’s Tetris.” The latter track also features a contribution from Snoop Dogg, who arrives after one of the album’s most explosive bursts of sound. He and Kendrick Lamar, who has a stunning rap in the jazzy “Never Catch Me,” represent the more “pop” aspects of this project. Needless to say at this point, they are anomalies, swamped by the more experimental side. After the halfway point in the album, these more accessible elements tend to be dissolved in the chaos of sound. The final track, “The Protest,” brings energetic piano playing and a choir singing “We will live on forever and ever” like a mantra.
Death is indeed one of the album’s overriding themes, though it makes no definitive statements on the topic. Instead, it’s content to let moments of frenetic activity, grinding fear, and insecurity swirl and mix. Because it switches between sounds and ideas so quickly, the album is restless. Intentionally mysterious and often abrasive, “You’re Dead!” is a successful fifth outing for Flying Lotus, who has shown himself to be one of the few artists capable of using computers in a way that consistently produces great music.