Flying Lotus – ‘You’re Dead!’

Steven Ellison explores morbid subjects on his madly inventive fifth album

The ideas behind Flying Lotus appear limitless. The 30-year-old Los Angeles producer, real name Steven Ellison, has enough experimental urges to fuel both his main project and his alter ego as an MC, Captain Murphy. Recently he’s also produced a large part of Kendrick Lamar’s forthcoming album.

Yet on this follow-up to 2012’s excellent ‘Until The Quiet Comes’ it sometimes feels like there are too many ideas for comfort. The first five minutes are a bit like a TV quiz show round where you have to identify three songs being played at once. Tracks such as ‘Tesla’ and ‘Cold Dead’ are a jumble of sounds – wildly soloing psych guitars, clattering drums, sound effects from the 1950s school of sci-fi B-movies and bonkers freeform keyboards by jazz legend Herbie Hancock. It’s disorientating and difficult to connect with, but when you consider that it’s a concept album about death and the afterlife, it does at least seem apposite, if not instantly likeable.

But this record rewards perseverance. Push past the initial confusion and things settle down. ‘Never Catch Me’ underpins twiddly jazz bass with a shuffling beat while Kendrick Lamar’s smoky vocal smoothes off the rough edges. ‘The Boys Who Died In Their Sleep’ is a bad trip of funereal organs, featuring Ellison (as Captain Murphy) half crying for someone to fetch the Valium to “take the edge away”. It’s genuinely unsettling. Elsewhere it’s also darkly funny: “Hold up, hold up, I bet you thinking we’re dead/Hold up, hold up, I have a bullet in my head”, deadpans FlyLo on ‘Dead Man’s Tetris’, a low-end jam of bass fuzz and computer game noises that includes a cameo from Snoop Dogg.

’You’re Dead’ is a madly inventive record, one that takes hip-hop and jazz as starting points, beats them both to death and then brings them back to life in an almost unrecognisable form. Above all it makes you think about Ellison’s dark but meticulously executed ideas and how they can possibly be so abundant.

Chris Cottingham