You’re Dead! is not your typical album. It’s more or less a progressive jazz document from a musician who’s either transcended electronic music, or is pulling it kicking and screaming into his own universe. Feet equally planted in jazz, electronic, hip-hop, and R&B, it’s far ranging enough to make any purist cringe in disgust (always a good thing). The record is bewildering and brief on a casual listen. Meditative and astonishingly deep on closer inspection. Depending on how you listen, it could be constantly transitioning to itself, like being lost on baggage claim. Or a grander statement, each piece subtly connected to every other.
The record, it should be said, is a concept record. As he’s explained in interviews the idea was to document the moment of death. Each song (perhaps movement would be more fitting) a look from a different perspective. Putting music to the transcendence, the confusion, the ascent, the dissipating, the descent that we’ll all eventually share.
You’re Dead! starts with a suite of otherworldly jazz, four tracks blending into a swirling vortex. It features the musical aid of none other than one Herbie Hancock, but it’s a far cry from Head Hunters. Flying Lotus seems more interested in chopping up the component parts and reassembling them in haphazard fashion. A hip-hop producer’s approach to full band direction perhaps: drums swing as atonal saxophone shredding pans from ear to ear, the whole arrangement swells to the pulse of Thundercat’s ever wandering, frenetic bass work. The groove is hinted at, but it’s hiding under the entire group’s insistence to run in every direction at once while tethered to a shared center of gravity, inevitably snapping back into either mass hysteria or a gorgeous but temporary universal truce.
And after all that sonic chaos Flying Lotus presents to you: probably the best damn hip-hop song of the year. First single Never Catch Me initially fooled me into thinking that You’re Dead! would finally be Flying Lotus’ first complete step into accessibility. Instead (and in context), it’s a respite of expertly crafted conventional wisdom in a record marked by existential questions. Both a detour and a centerpiece, with a killer bass solo and a robot Kendrick Lamar.
I could continue trying to describe complex and nuanced expression with mere words, but suffice to say the rest of the record delivers, a thrilling exploration both sonically and thematically. Whether through ethereal sighs, demented rants, skyward pleas, or universal protests, You’re Dead! is 19 gasps at a shared fate. And one collective shout into the void.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.