words_juan bisono. photos_clashmusic.com, vimeo.com.
The final song on Flying Lotus’s new album You’re Dead! is titled “The Protest.” It was at that point, the beginning of the end, that Steven Ellison’s narrative intention becomes glaringly obvious. People have always been preoccupied with the afterlife. But, the take on it here is authentic. The producer opts for absurdity over vulnerability. Ellison isn’t worried about what he leaves behind, or the fleeting quality of the human condition (We exist, man!). Rather, death here works under the pretense of normalcy. We live, we make music, we die, or something like that. This means that like other Flying Lotus albums before it You’re Dead! wants to be an epic, and works on that grand scale without falling into melodrama.
Through the first four tracks we embark on a journey both mystifyingly beautiful and eerie. With the help of Herbie Hancock’s ever-reaching musical genius on “Tesla” the beginning of the album introduces you seamlessly to the following half hour, which climaxes (but is nowhere near the end) at the Kendrick Lamar collaboration “Never Catch Me.” The entire album works as a meditation on the unknown, but at no point is the artist’s intention as clear as it is in “Never Catch Me”. K-Dot explains, “Ain’t no blood pumpin’ no fear/I got hope inside of my bones/ this that life beyond your own life/ this aint physical for mankind/ this that out of body experience.” The out of experience spoken of is what happens to us when we die. Eyes shut. Enter Darkness. DMT spills into your mind. You feel yourself drifting. Is there a light? Or maybe you don’t believe in a light? So, maybe it’s like a great LSD trip. Acid Jazz soundtracks your reality, and the musical texture is so alive it begins to take shape. You see people dance, boats rowing beneath a river of skeletons. It’s all very weird, but at no moment is it scary. Some people are smiling, and after all why not have fun when the situation requires no fixing? That’s when you understand: there’s a reason why we die, and it’s not a big deal that we do. We can die and still get out of it alive.
Following “Never Catch Me” the album drifts into ridiculousness. Snoop Dogg even comes through and gets a verse. He practically lights up in purgatory. Standout track “Coronus, the Terminator” begins our descent into death. We now understand this is where we are, in dead-end wasteland with nothing but escape routes and confusing sounds. Except at no moment does any of it sound confused. The environment is controlled to the most minute detail to feel like a world made up of cartoon emotion and a new hybrid of the most acid music on earth; think Future Jazz/Sex Sounds.
At the final track was when it all made sense to me. It’s difficult to agree with people being so complacent over this whole end-of-our-time thing. So, Ellison gives us the satisfaction. “We will live on/ forever and ever”, says the voice behind the music. Humanity exists in a state larger than any one of its carrying entity’s, it was present much before any J-Dilla track inspired Steven Ellison to make his kind of music, and it will continue to exist until his music is stored away in some library in L.A. where people call it archaic. Because, this is the truth: We live, we die, and life just keeps going. Give it up for Flying Lotus for putting all that into 38 minutes of music.