November 10, 2014

FlyLo gazes into the abyss on latest album

I stood in disbelief and amazement, watching the visuals before me: 3-D imaging had never been so intriguing or so "cool," and I wasn’t even wearing those '80s frame glasses. Flying Lotus’s concert at the Concord on Friday was certainly exciting and memorable.

However, as I woke the next day, still buzzed after an evening of both head-nodding and head-throbbing beats, my own head began to throb when I tried to recall the music itself. Separate from the overall aura of the concert, I couldn’t tell you much about “FlyLo’s” new album; individual tracks are hard to recall amid such a dizzying blitzkrieg of audiovisual power. Today, I decided to listen again to his release You’re Dead! to investigate this discrepancy in my enthusiasm. I knew what I’d seen that night—but what had I heard?

FlyLo’s album is held together by frantic jazz, which plays over 38 minutes of choppy sound bytes. It opens with “Theme,” a confusing jumble of synthetic rhythms, industrial chimes, and discombobulating beats. The intro song grabs your attention, but the album itself doesn’t hit its stride until “Never Catch Me,” featuring Kendrick Lamar. Perhaps this is due to Kendrick’s familiar voice, but I believe this track owes more to the fact that the beat is consistent and catchy. The album itself slowly builds up to this song through transitions, repeating instrumentals, and computer-driven riffs. “Fkn Dead” acts as one of these transitions and is one of the most harmonious pieces of the lot, if only 41 seconds long.

FlyLo’s album reaches its climax at “Dead Man’s Tetris,” featuring entertaining favorites Captain Murphy and Snoop Dogg. The song culminates in a mélange of synth and prog rhythms, old action film voice overs, and grainy, raspy rap voices. The beat sounds like a '90s computer that is towering over you is booting up—you almost can’t help yourself from bopping along. You’re Dead! soon descends into madness—literally—as one of the following songs “Descent Into Madness” is just as discombobulating as the beginning tracks, yet holds no new surprises. The rest of the album begins to sound like lounge pop: nothing distinguishable, or particularly memorable.

Unsurprisingly memorable, however, is Flying Lotus’s consistency in theme. From his earlier albums to the present, he ties his pieces into very specific motifs with personal connections. This round, his choice of focus was death (the album’s title gives this away). From family members to artistic collaborators, FlyLo does not only mourn and celebrate lives, but questions the nature of death itself. Here, I found the personal facts he included more heart-pumping than his beats. He is in fact a blood relative of the late, great Alice Coltrane, whom he states is an evident influence. These personal connections deepen his work beyond the largely impersonal machine noises he creates.

While death is a looming theme, fear is not. The haunting track, “The Boys Who Died In Their Sleep,” is disorienting and uncomfortable, as if you’re a voyeur upon a nightmarish grave. Yet it’s comical and psychedelic, making the album’s title only fanciful, especially if overcontemplated. “The Protest” ends the album with ominous, chanting voices that fade into another perplexing amalgam of jazz, ambient lounge styling, and harsh industrial jabs. Nothing sounds dirge-like, nor are there any pauses for grievances; FlyLo moves through the sounds, only calmly glancing at death, as if he sees it at the far end of the room.

After repeated, diligent listenings, I ultimately found multiple facets of FlyLo’s album fascinating, from the playful take on a dark theme, to the visuals that further this notion—from album cover to stage performance. However, stripped raw, each song is nothing more than technical beeps and bangs. I might never listen to the album in full again, but I’d see Flying Lotus and his comical vision of death, live again any day.