finding life in flying lotus' vision of death

Exploring the new Flying Lotus record with Noisey.

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Jan 7 2015, 3:30pm

One thing that's again been made acutely apparent in 2014 is how death floats in a tighter orbit when it comes to being black in America. This includes human life (Michael Brown, Eric Garner), judicial obligation (grand jury fuck-ups) and cultural identity (Iggy Azalea's existence). As long as blacks have lived in America, we've had to create, reform, and sustain methods to retain identity and culture in the face of an oppressive power. It's been this way with slaves, where rhythms were used to communicate and preserve. It's been this way in the history of jazz, where African rhythms and harmonies were inhaled and the sterile European influences gradually diminished in favor of improvisational freedom. It's been this way in funk, where the mothership and dancefloor transgressed social and industry limitations.

Flying Lotus—real name Stephen Ellison— carries that tradition of black music both in his work and by blood (composer Alice Coltrane, John Coltrane's wife, is his grandaunt and Motown songwriter Marilyn Mcleod is his grandmother). In addition to that, what sets FlyLo apart in his native L.A. beat scene is how his albums revolve around abstract ideas (the excellent Los Angeles is the exception). Ellison's 2010 opus Cosmogramma, for example, deals with the planets. 2012's Until The Quiet Comes, another stunner, examines the subconscious. His albums don't aim for the head, though; they're fully realized projects that thrill with its layers and constant eccentricities. Like Sun Ra did in his space travels and his Aunt Alice did with spirituality, FlyLo uses music to make the unseen but present feel like shared, human experiences.

In interviews, Flying Lotus has said You're Dead! was inspired by personal loss and a flittering sense of creative worth. By itself, it's excellent, but sometimes a great body of work is made even greater by its timeliness, even if by coincidence. You're Dead! is polychromatic for an album that's obsessed with one subject. It's psychedelic, it's contemplative, it's hymnal, and it's frenetic. For as much as there is going on, sequencing doesn't come off as cacophonous. The songs—including the shards of funk, jazz and hip-hop that guide them—fit together while barely staving off collapse.

Read the whole piece on Noisey