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Music Review: 'You're Dead!' By Flying Lotus

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Finally this hour, music that explores death not as end but as a beginning. It comes from Steven Ellison, better known as Flying Lotus. He records experimental hip-hop and jazz influenced albums, and his latest is called "You're Dead." While the music is challenging, critic Oliver Wang took on the album as a musical journey.

OLIVER WANG: Flying Lotus is one of the top talents in the vaguely defined beatmaking scene of Los Angeles. That term, beatmaking, suggests a grounding in hip-hop production but it doesn't do much to convey the extraordinary diversity of sonic styles within that community, least of all from Lotus.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEME")

WANG: His auditory imagination is far more steeped in free jazz fancies and experimental music musings than anything you would normally spit a rhyme over. "You're Dead" takes the idea of passing away as a literal description of a journey that begins when one crosses the threshold into the afterlife.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TESLA")

WANG: As Lotus recently explained in The Fader magazine, the album was heavily influenced by the recent deaths of his mother, close friends and Lotus's own drug induced brush with mortality. But his conception of crossing into the hereafter is free of fear and even sadness. Instead, the passages through which he guides the listener are at times chaotic and disorienting.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TESLA")

WANG: Chill and placcid.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DESCENT INTO MADNESS")

UNKNOWN PERSON: Can you feel the walls are closing in? Closer to the end. Welcome to the descent. The descent. The descent into madness. The descent.

WANG: Or unexpectedly exhilarating.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEVER CATCH ME")

KENDRICK LAMAR: (Rapping) I can see the darkness in me and it's quite amazing. I think death is no mystery and I want to taste it. Step inside of my mind and you'll find curiosity, animosity, high philosophy, hyper prophesied meditation. Reminisce on my wonder years and I wonder here. Sentiments of my words ain't been so sincere. The sentiment of my nerves that I just persevere. The big thought of fallin' off disappeared to my fate. They say that Heaven's real.

WANG: The first time I listened to "You're Dead" was during a drive down I-95 through New England. The foliage was just starting to turn and occasionally blazing autumnal colors burst through the morning fog. As if by cosmic design, "Flying Lotus" provided a perfect soundtrack to complement the leaves' own spectacular passage into death. The shifting moments of visual and musical beauty and mystery seemed completely in sync and I didn't want either the drive or the album to end. Somehow, in listening to "You're Dead," I felt incredibly alive.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEVER CATCH ME")

CORNISH: The album "You're Dead" is from Flying Lotus. Our reviewer, Oliver Wang, is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Cal. State Long Beach. He writes the audio blog Soul Sides. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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