People hoping for another Cosmogramma are going to be disappointed, but at the same time, it’s not another Until the Quiet Comes – which was the sound of Flying Lotus settling instead of expanding – so you should be a little pleased. Sonically, this is a bit in between, though You’re Dead! marks a shift in Flying Lotus’ discography, where his bloodline to the Coltrane family becomes more than just an easy namedrop; You’re Dead! is more jazz fusion-influenced than it is electronic or hip-hop. Unfortunately, that also turns out to be it’s biggest flaw: it’s never as an immersive experience as the jazz fusion records it keeps referencing (“Ready Err Not” is Herbie Hancock’s “Rain Dance” shortened to less than 2 minutes; “Moment of Hesitation”‘s sudden intensity sounds exactly like Miles Davis’ opening measures on In a Silent Way; certain guitar solos sound like other guitar solos found on Bitches Brew, etc.). And the album’s concept around death isn’t as realized as hoped.
Anyway, let’s drill down. Despite the fact that Flying Lotus’ albums demand holistic listens, let’s focus on one of the best standalone songs of his career so far. “Never Catch Me.” Numerous rappers have tried before to tame FlyLo’s beats – Blu, Mac Miller, alter-ego Captain Murphy – but few have managed to do so successfully (the shortlist before “Never Catch Me”’s release included one Earl Sweatshirt). Dig how good the internal rhymes sound: “Step inside my mind and you’ll find curiosity, animosity / High velocity…”; “This that final destination, this that find some information / This that find some inspiration, this that crack, the instillation / This that quantum jump and that fast pump and that bomb detonation / Please don’t bomb my nation.” But neither of those are Lamar’s best bit on the song. Observe:
- “Looking down on my soul now, tell me I’m in control now
- Tell me I can live long and I can live wrong and I can live right
- And I can sing song and I can unite with you that I love
- You that I like, look at my life and tell me I fight,”
While handclaps help stress the relevant syllables to make it even more outstanding. But Kendrick Lamar’s portion of the song lasts less than a third of it; what does Flying Lotus do? Well, he provides Lamar with two of his best melodies (ever) – the piano line’s the obvious one, but check out those backing vocals too. And once Kendrick Lamar reaches climax (“BITCH YOU’RE DEAD!”), Flying Lotus lets rip with a guitar solo that says fuck a refractory period and the song climaxes again, but harder. Then, Flying Lotus being Flying Lotus, he doesn’t just let the song patter out, recalling Cosmogramma in the song’s final third. One of 2014’s best songs, electronic, hip-hop or otherwise. One of 2014’s best music videos too, and a YouTube commenter named Megan Rosati sums that one up: “DOPE ASS DANCER KIDS.”
Unfortunately, “Never Catch Me” is an anomaly in You’re Dead!; none of Captain Murphy’s or Snoop Dogg’s contributions manages to even aspire to Kendrick’s lofty heights (obviously); no solo manages to signify as much; no melody manages to be as melodic as the ones mentioned. Not that there’s nothing else worth noting: check out the drumming of “Tesla”; check out the guitar solo from 0:28 to 0:40 and the pastoral passage from 1:24 to 1:40 of “Turkey Dog Coma”; check out the hymnal “Coronus, the Terminator”; check out “Turtles,” which directs a staccato, descending riff through a jungle; check out Herbie Hancock’s mischievous contributions on “Moment of Hesitation”; check out the starry-eyed conclusion of “Your Potential//The Beyond” and check out the familiar melody of “The Protest” (“Forever…and ever…”).
But there are missteps: “Dead Man’s Tetris” is nothing more than a descending riff; once you’ve heard the first minute or so, you really don’t need to hear the rest. (Serious question: when was the last good Snoop Dogg feature?) The same goes for “Siren Song,” where Angel Deradoorian bounces back between the same two intervals over and over. Meanwhile, Captain Murphy – who’s actually a good rapper as evidenced by some songs from Duality – doesn’t bother rapping so much as does drops catchphrases on either of his appearances. And though I really enjoyed Thundercat’s Apocalypse and his features on previous Flying Lotus’ albums, it becomes clear on “Descent into Madness” that his falsetto shtick is getting tiresome; Captain Murphy’s completely off-singing in the first half of “The Boys Who Died in Their Sleep” is much more interesting. The 30-second interludes “Fkn Dead” and “Stirring” are a new phenomenon in Flying Lotus’ universe and they don’t add anything.