flyinglotus

The beauty of Flying Lotus is that we’ve genuinely come to expect the unexpected from Steven Ellison. It could be the challenge of deciphering the hi-jacked frequencies, keeping pace with the free jazz marauds, or finding comfort between cosmic interludes, or maybe it’s simply because we’ve been through his personal gamut of hazy despair, sci-fi funk, jazz, soul and the pulsing futurism that has come to define his playground sound. We’ve jumped on the groundbreaking ‘Los Angeles’, bounced around the condensed ‘Cosmogramma’ as it danced between ideas and extremes, and fell in love with the sumptuously psychedelic ‘Until the Quiet Comes’ as it unpacked everything with beautiful simplicity.

The latter set a fresh FlyLo benchmark but for the few naysayers, who felt that the brief track times made more for exciting sketches than fully-formed songs, and it’s a similar approach that makes ‘You’re Dead!’ both a fascinating and frustrating listen.

Away from the brilliance of lead single ‘Never Catch Me’ we get Thundercat’s digit-defying bass setting a frenetic pace on ‘Tesla’, the chameleonic guitar riffs and arpeggio-blitzing sax of ‘Cold Dead’, and the subtle, Santana-esque guitar that lends ‘Fkn Dead’ a Latin, lounge feel in its 40 fading seconds. Further on, ‘Turkey Dog Coma’ jerks with stops, starts and ever-changing time signatures, and ‘Dead Man’s Tetris’ throws together Snoop Dogg and Captain Murphy into a rough-cut world of samples, computer game snippets and 8-bit beats that feels like an alter ego in the context of everything else.

It’s a familiarly meticulous construction, as if each track is a single rib that protects the album’s beating heart. It’s a process that helps make sense of ‘You’re Dead’s’ roll call of one- and two-minute instalments, and lets Ellison weave his celestial magic. Behind that laconic persona, though, there’s a fastidious control, not just over every frantic surge of jazz fusion, slow-bumping melody or genre-hopping switch, but a fundamental way of programming us to approach every element as part of a whole.

Fixing these 19 tracks into 38 minutes was always going to be a familiar FlyLo point of pride, but crafting singles, or consistently conventional three-minute tracks, has rarely been Ellison’s intent. He makes no secret of wanting his albums to be treated as long players for the twilight hours; 21st century beats created to creep, seep, and bleed into one fluid, ever-evolving journey.

It’s a risky desire to create albums that, if dismantled down to their individual components, rarely make standalone sense, but it’s a bravery that’s consistently rewarded. ‘You’re Dead’ might be less an immediate celebration of Ellison’s restless creativity but on this evidence, his innate ability to orchestrate worlds of far-out fantasia is still unrivalled.

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