You see, no one likes talking about death. But Flying Lotus has never been one to lead the people on a simple journey. With You're Dead! he has managed to create a shamanic pilgrimage into the psychedelic unknown of the infinite afterlife. At once reflective, restless, heart wrenching and joyous, this is a melodic ode to those who have died young, suddenly and unexpectedly -- those who have passed away into another realm completely -- while also existing as a comfort to those mourning the loss of a loved one, those left behind in our here and now.
You're Dead! serves as an exploration, a eulogy and a portal between these parallel domains. "My perspective comes from having lost a lot of people. A lot of my family members passed, but a lot of my colleagues passed away too soon," says Flying Lotus. "I felt like in my own experiences, I wanted them to have this same sense of self." Musically, the album treats death as a transition from one experience to another, from one dimension of sound to another. Masterfully, Flying Lotus bathes death in the sensitive, affectionate light of a storyteller.
Flying Lotus takes listeners on a consciousness-fracturing journey as they follow those who've passed away as they embark on their tender new existences "on the other side." This life in the new dimension is rife with excitement, adjustments and reconciliation for some who are struggling to make sense of how they got to the other side in the first place. "The album isn't about the end," says Flying Lotus. "It's really the beginning. It's the beginning of a new experience," he says. "It's not hey you're dead," he says somberly. "It's hey you're dead!" he says with an uptick of enthusiasm. "To me it's a celebration of the next experience. Also, it's the transition and the confusion," he adds.
You're Dead! is a hefty undertaking, but Flying Lotus aptly creates an engaging sonic delight, part spiritual carnival, part melancholic symphony, all the while coaxing listeners out of their fears of the unknown -- and sometimes indulging those same fears. This aural procession through the afterlife does not trade on our clichéd catalog of pop-culture references to extinction. You won't find grim reaper-referencing rote drama, or the pallid somber palette of reverential muzak. This is a sonic, visual and metaphysical fusion of technological innovation and technical virtuosity that amounts to a transcendent, mind-expanding plasm that could only exists between our world and another.
Land of History & Future
Always existing simultaneously as an insider and outsider in the great lineage of jazz, here Flying Lotus has taken up the mantle of a generation. "I really wanted to do something that came from the jazz spirit instead of a beat record," he says. In thus in the spirit of the great fusion collectives of the 1960s and 70s, so has Flying Lotus' universe of supporting cast expanded and evolved to encompass incredible musicians, visual artists and personalities, young and old. "I recorded every instrument individually. There was never a set band," he says. "I can't write sheet music, so it's better for me to work with each person and perfect each part."
"I had so much fun making it because I got to try different techniques. I got into all kinds of techniques; I tried to bring in techniques from old jazz records and psychedelic rock records into how I mixed things and arrange things." Flying Lotus credits his work with Thundercat on previous work for opening him beyond the more solo work of the beat producer to collaborative work with musicians. "I've never been so open to the process as I was with this album," he says. Thundercat co-produced several songs and wrote the eerie "Descent into Madness."
The gravity of this musical utopia has been growing ever stronger over time, and so it attracts very powerful travelers. Here, this includes Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg. These living legends provide a recognizable lifeline from the hallucinatory turmoil of the afterlife back to present-day Los Angeles. In fact, when Snoop, Kendrick and the cunning Captain Murphy are present you're privy to an evolutionary triptych of the history and future of Los Angeles hip-hop mould-breaking.
Speaking of history and future, the pairing of jazz legend Herbie Hancock and Flying Lotus is a supreme highlight of You're Dead!. Playing the Fender Rhodes, the iconic electric piano that Hancock himself popularized over myriad essential recordings, the meeting of two generations of jazz fusion innovators is a historic occasion. "It was the coolest," says Flying Lotus of working with Hancock. "In the middle of a take he'll tell you a story about Miles Davis for 20 minutes. I was really flattered that he wanted to be a part of my music."
The twosome challenged themselves. "We were trying to figure out how to make a jazz record that feels new. We said, what if Miles came and they showed him all the jazz records made today. We wanted to have a jazz record that would fuck him up."
The album's opening piece is a pure sonic manifestation of the moment of ending. This wrenching into a new and unfamiliar setting quickly ushers in "Tesla," a searching for equilibrium in new and impossible surroundings. "Cold Dead" finds metaphysical eternity and futuristic fusion jazz locked in an acid-fried shredding match for the prizes of minds and souls. "Never Catch Me" is a sprint through a netherworld as Kendrick Lamar flaunts death with equal parts world-beating confidence and introspective conviction. "Life and death is no mystery and I've won against it," raps Lamar.
"Dead Man's Tetris" plays with the pogo stick harmonics of the nostalgia-inducing video game and features Snoop Dogg and Captain Murphy trading verses about flirting with death and those musical legends who now reside in the hereafter, in which they find themselves upon the mic.
"Stirring" maintains this sense of vertigo as it slips into "Coronus, The Terminator." This screwed soul dirge drags itself past the ghosts of ATLiens and Soulquarians while splicing the DNA of the classic sci-fi film with the saga of You're Dead!. "Siren Song" sees Angel Deradoorian lead a wordless incantation over a chiming mystical backdrop, seamlessly morphing into the fourth-world tumble of "Turtles" and onto "Ready Err Not" a creeping radiophonic transmission which marks the mounting curiosity of the journeyer around the idea of death.
"Descent into Madness" features Thundercat and highlights the heavier side of this exploration with a heavy dose of kaleidoscopic soul operatics, while on "The Boys Who Died in Their Sleep" Captain Murphy scours prescription meds for the right cocktail to "take the pain away." Slipping into the album final suite of songs there is much resolution and yet much that is left to the listener to internalize, questions to be answered by looking inside.
You see, no one likes talking about death. But Flying Lotus has never been one to lead the people on a simple journey.