by Catherine Zhang
Flying Lotus (or, as his fans fondly refer to him, FlyLo), has a new album out, titled You’re Dead!
On his website, he characterizes it as a “psychedelic death trip,” probably because you could stare at the album cover in an altered state of mind for hours on end. Designed by Shintaro Kago, a Japanese manga artist who specializes in sexual body modification, the cover features the face of Steven Ellison (aka FlyLo) partially obscured by an orb of light, and against a backdrop of detailed shapes, patterns and mesmerizing lines.
The album, as well as some of the song titles (“Cold Dead,” “Fkn Dead,” “Dead Man’s Tetris,” “Siren Song,” etc.) may well be inspired by the deaths of those close to Flying Lotus, such as his great-aunt and jazz composer Alice Coltrane, or fellow collaborator Austin Peralta, a phenomenal piano composer who died young.
You’re Dead! was released by Warp Records, and hosts a load of featured artists, including Thundercat, the renowned bass player, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, and Niki Randa.
You must listen to: “Never Catch Me,” “Siren Song,” “Dead Man’s Tetris,” and “Coronus, the Terminator”.
“Theme” seems to tell the story of a video game, with a Mario-reminiscent theme in the background. At the end, the character suddenly dies, as the song draws to a close. “Tesla”, a song of great inconsistency, may have been inspired by Nikola Tesla, the innovative engineer. “Cold Dead” and “Fkn Dead” are short songs reminiscent of previous FlyLo albums. All four first songs are all under two minutes, and some have elements that are hard to understand…until you hear “Never Catch Me”.
Perhaps one of the best songs on the album, “Never Catch Me” is the first stand-alone song on You’re Dead! with the capacity to go viral. “Theme,” “Tesla,” “Cold Dead,” and “Fkn Dead” each contain elements that build up to this song, which is a seamless, harmonious blend of all four. He pulls the video game-inspired theme, the consistently inconsistent beat from “Tesla,” and some of his classic FlyLo forward-thinking fusion.
I listened to “Never Catch Me” thirty times since it was pre-released, in anticipation for the rest of the album.
The music video paints a universal story of escaping death; a peaceful casket, and a family gathered in a church. Two children have died, their faces restful in the open casket. Just as everyone bows their heads, they come back to life, climbing out of the caskets. Everyone starts clapping and celebrating, urging the children on, who are now dancing animatedly down the pews.
Suddenly, time stops, and everyone freezes. The children start sprinting towards the exit, fleeing death. They run past kids their own age, who are doing typical kid activities in the streets, like playing and jump-roping. The deceased children jump into a black car and drive off, with a trail of kids chasing after them. “Never Catch Me” and its music video are at the forefront of FlyLo’s curiosity with afterlife, which is a theme explored throughout the entire album.
Arguably the most haunting line from the song: “Recognize I deprive this fear and then embrace it // Vandalizing these walls only if they could talk // Conversations won’t contemplate to my dark thoughts”
“Dead Man’s Tetris” ft. Snoop Dogg references the astral plane, the subject of one of FlyLo’s previous and most popular songs, “Do the Astral Plane”. The song mimics a tetris-like descent to the afterlife, as the astral plane is the span that bridges life and death. Says Snoop at the very end, “I was live when I met you // Now this seems to upset you // This what the shit gon’ get you: Death”.
“Coronus, the Terminator”, also pre-released, may have been inspired by a Greek mythological figure as the main character in a creepy, mislead story, with its hazy humming and wicked beat. The lyrics reveal: “My hands been bloody since the day came // It’s such a shame, you’ve seen my violent side // Don’t make me go away // Cause I’d like to save the day” A haunted church choir joins in as the song climaxes to its most thought-provoking line, “The days of man are coming to an end” Is this a feminist statement, or is FlyLo simply claiming that the end of mankind is inevitable?
One of the slowest and most chill songs on the album, “Siren Song” is nearly quiet for the first forty seconds before the siren (Angel Deradoorian from the Dirty Projectors) starts singing. She urges you to follow her to the depths of the sea, captivating you without saying an actual word. It is the musical equivalent of an orgasmic experience that makes this one of the best on the album. This song makes me want to wiggle my eyebrows at someone and say, “Wazowwwwww.”
The rest of the album stretches to new lengths in experimentation, narrating a mental journey that FlyLo takes, starting with “Turtles”, which follows a steady tune accompanied by windcharms and a woman singing softly. Then, as if someone were searching on tiptoe in a game of Hide and Seek, “Ready Err Not” summons the visual image of colored dots pinging on a screen. An otherworldly being shimmers through the minute-long song “Eyes Above,” and the album seems to take on a light-hearted, potentially cheery state of mind with “Moment of Hesitation,” in which a running beat mimics the liveliness of life.
But as the album suggests, you’re dead, and the “Descent Into Madness” is definitely the creepiest, most hopeless Halloween-esque song on the entire album. Take a look at the first few lines: “Can you feel the walls are closing in…welcome to the descent…there is no escaping the black hole, darkness in your soul.”
“The Boys Who Died In Their Sleep” features Captain Murphy, Flying Lotus’ alter ego. This song illustrates a man going mad in a high-pitched, upset voice that wails: “Someone has to pay the bills, I can’t even look in the mirror, oh baby, would you get my pills…anything to take the edge away…I look inside my mind and find a world inside my eyelids.”
“Obligatory Cadence” is best described as an underwater orchestra that, upon the stroke of midnight, comes to life with classic Flying Lotus rhythmic cadences. Niki Randa joins FlyLo in “Your Potential//The Beyond,” a sleepy, sinister song that all of the sudden explodes with angry character at the one-minute mark.
Finally, FLyLo closes with “The Protest,” the only line being “We will live on forever and ever,” which is repeated over and over until believed, allowing You’re Dead! to conclude with a protest against the final stage of dying, leaving him floating in the afterlife.
You’re Dead! is partially a continuation of previous FlyLo albums (think: Cosmogramma and Until the Quiet Comes) because Steven Ellison calls upon his collaborators Niki Randa and Thundercat to provide their alt-hip-hop influence and deep bass undertones, while expounding on recent life developments that inspire the theme of the whole album.
On the other hand, this newest album, with its new emphasis on chaos, takes on a more serious yet ethereal note that illustrates a departure from the previous Flying Lotus style.
As is evidenced by the organization of the first five songs, the album doesn’t follow a certain order; it’s almost as though Flying Lotus threw in samples and snippets of songs as standalones, keeping the whole album totally raw, totally FlyLo. It’s up to us to learn to appreciate what he creates.
You’re Dead! is available in its entirety on Spotify, and Steven Ellison (Flying Lotus) visits Chicago’s Concord Hall on October 24th.