‘You’re Dead’ is a concept that lives

My first impression of “You’re Dead!” the new album from Flying Lotus was: “Weird and PROGGY,” as a friend promptly summarized in a text message after he’d first listened to it.

“Weird” isn’t an unexpected word to describe music from an electronic/hip hop musician, but “PROGGY” — yes, the text featured the word in all caps — is a bit more unexpected. But don’t take “Weird and PROGGY” as negative. “You’re Dead!” is perhaps one of the most musically accessible albums from Steven Ellison, the producer better known as Flying Lotus.

With his fifth studio album, Ellison again proves why he’s one of the genre-drivers of electronic/beat music today.

As one would guess from the title, “You’re Dead!” is a concept album about death. And yes, it can be pretty dark, as it’s focused on the moment of death. The album art and lyrics are also dark, but people would be wrong to just dismiss this album as little more than something of a violent rap album. Ellison crafts an album that really flows as a cohesive unit more than it stands apart as individual tracks, as many flow together.

Ellison said he came up with the idea for the album after his parents and several friends passed away.

Though Flying Lotus has been predominantly instrumental on past albums, Ellison weaves in vocals on about eight of the tracks, providing vocals himself on “Dead Man’s Tetris” and “The Boys Who Died in Their Sleep” and also making room for guest appearances by the likes of Kendrick Lama and Snoop Dogg.

The album structure is definitely unique — it features 19 tracks, but it’s only a little more than 38 minutes. The longest track is 3:54.

Using the word “proggy” is fitting for the album. Moments of opening tracks “Theme,” “Tesla” and “Cold Dead” sound like something out of a trippy lost King Crimson album, and plus prog rock was well known for concept albums.

But make no mistakes, this is not straight prog. Ellison blends in his electronic, beat-driven music with prog and jazz element, and jazz musician Herbie Hancock plays keyboard on “Tesla” and “Moment of Hesitation.”

The album definitely takes inspiration from jazz fusion of the 1960s, and Ellison said he initially set out to record in more of a jazz style. But this is a different kind of jazz fusion than the rock and funk fusion of that era. Instead, Ellison is blending in elements of jazz into his electronic and hip hop style. The jazz elements seem fitting, as Ellison is the great-nephew of the late musician Alice Coltrane and her husband, jazz legend John Coltrane. He’s also sough inspiration and help at times from his cousin, Ravi Coltrane.

Musical lineage aside, Ellison took a grand concept and a complex musical and then combined them into something that’s as — if not more — accessible than his prior albums. That’s no easy task.

Just because a concept album about death may be dark at times, doesn’t mean the artistic vision is any more or less worthwhile. On “You’re Dead!” Ellison again shows why he’s at the top of his genre.

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