Here’s a thing I like: unusual and original, yet still exciting and beat-oriented electronic music.
Here’s a thing I don’t like: Free-form jazz.
Naturally, when I heard Flying Lotus was releasing a new LP, my mind didn’t immediately call up the second one of those things. Turns out that was a mistake. The LA based producer who first grooved his way into our ears doing the bumper music for the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block has up until now been progressing his sound gradually from album to album, evolving through minor variation as nature intended. All artists eventually feel a need to grow and expand, however, and this too is a natural impulse, a risk that can possibly lead to health and abundance. As with any risk, however, there is a dark side. In this case, that the thing you are cultivating might just end up stuck up your own ass. Unfortunately, with You’re Dead!, it seems like that bloom won’t be getting sunshine anytime soon.
When the stellar, ageless Los Angeles was released in 2008, it was a thing of beauty. Bleeding-edge electronic fantasia; unpredictable, catchy, cold and vital. Each successive album changed that sound somewhat further from the last without losing the thread of what had already been woven. 2010 and 2012’s Cosmogramma and Until the Quiet Comes were both strange, fascinating albums, at times groovy and accessible, at other times intriguing in their aloofness. The latter drifted a bit further into the abstract, but at times both of them showed flashes of the jazz that clearly so informs the aesthetic of Flying Lotus (Born Steven Ellison). But not too much. Just a little jazz. To keep it interesting and to prevent the listener from becoming complacent. In the metaphorical Sephora-Of-Music in which the listener metaphorically stands, the jazz notes serve as the coffee beans of the ears; cleansing the palate whilst one sniffs the eaux de parfums that make up the track list (please send my plaque for Best and Least Strained Metaphor Ever to Gutterbubbles.com). But Ellison seems to have gone suddenly mad, popping the allegorical lid off of the symbolic can of unground representative beans and pouring them into his imaginary mouth. He lost the thread. He made a damn jazz album.
There are essentially four intro tracks on this album. “Theme” is extremely short ambient atmospherics punctuated by staccato drums. “Tesla” is more of the same, though now with some electric piano and guitar, the syncopated snares here are now brushed. Then comes “Cold Dead”:guitar, sax, clashing cymbals. Closing out the “why the hell are these songs all different tracks” tetralogy is “Fkn Dead”, which, over the course of its epic forty second runtime toys with the idea of a beat, remembers how utterly over such plebian concepts this record is, and abandons it to some more jazz improv. This four-track cycle represents about five-and-a-half minutes total playing time. It’s as though Ellison thought “I’m not sure what to lead off the album with. Fuck it, throw it all on the pile.”
Five tracks in, there is finally a song with something happening, and it is the strongest point on the album. “Never Catch Me (feat. Kendrick Lamar)” is what I had hoped Lotus’ evolution would sound like: Cool beat, electric piano providing a mellow groove around which the jazz elements can play without becoming unfocused and overindulgent, Lamar’s cool, almost robotic performance providing a (not too) human element to fuse everything into a cohesive whole. It’s a tactic deployed again on the immediately follow-up track “Dead Man’s Tetris (feat. Captain Murphy and Snoop Dogg)”. More of that bizarre, future-of-hip-hop vibe, this time with vocals provided by Ellison himself (Captain Murphy being his nom de rhyme) and Snoop Dogg. And it’s fine. Snoop’s voice is as laconic as usual, but it’s not distractingly so. “Turtles”, a hyper-chill affair of chiming bells and hand drums is another bright spot. Otherwise, it’s a jazz record. To a jazz enthusiast I would say: try this out, you’ll get it. To someone like myself who does not enjoy free-form jazz I would say: it’s some cool stuff buried in piles of masturbatory noodling.
You’re Dead! is a brief idyll at least, with nineteen tracks chopped finely from a total thirty-eight minutes of play time. It also feels feather-light, floating airily from idea to idea with a distant confidence that certainly indicates a work of massive talent that will no doubt garner praise from many. To me however, the sound feels random and alienating; not an evolution as much as a speciation into an entirely different animal. This beast may be interesting to look at and is clearly well-bred and well cared-for, but it’s not my kind of pet. It mostly just makes annoying noises.
Nick is a writer and desk jockey with a bleary eye on culture and an unquenchable thirst for music and genre fiction/film. This is shorthand for "knows things about spaceships and wizards". He is occasionally bitten by small animals he deliberately maintains in his Columbus, OH home for some reason. He is available for birthday parties and bar mitzvahs. He is not a replicant.
October 7, 2014, 11:06 am