You're_Dead!

Flying Lotus explores the mysteries of death, and beyond, on “You’re Dead!”

Flying Lotus

You’re Dead! Album Review

Warp Records

Genre: Jazz Fusion, Experimental Electronica, Experimental Hip Hop, Nu Jazz, Neo Jazz, Psychedelic Jazz IDM, Wonky-Hop, Space Jazz, Experimental-Futuristic-Jazz-Infused-Electronic-Magic

Released: October 7, 2014

Every single album that Steve Ellison has released under the Flying Lotus moniker has been a conceptual piece of art and music, encompassing transcendent ideas that have emotional ties to his upbringing. From the year of his birth (2000’s 1983), the location of his musical identity (2008’s Los Angeles), abstract concepts of space and time (2010’s spectacular Cosmogramma), and even into the deep caverns of our dreams and subconscious (2012’s Until The Quiet Comes). With these albums exemplifying Ellison’s visionary themes, it comes to no surprise that his latest release follows suit. You’re Dead! explores a concept that has been around since the beginning of time, and in its essence pops up in every facet of our lives: death. While mysterious and formidable, You’re Dead! successfully views death from a more hopeful angle, shifting this daunting perception into something much more sanguine.

Flying Lotus’ music is heavily rooted in jazz, hip hop, and IDM. His inspirations include hip hop greats such as J Dilla to jazz greats, his aunt, Alice Coltrane, and his uncle, the legendary John Coltrane. If you listen to Flying Lotus’ music, you’ll see that the songs never stay firm or still, kind of like a kid with ADHD. One minute it’s improvisational jazz, the next minute wonky synths come in, and to close it off he’ll drop some of the sickest beats to grace your ears, all in one song. (Imagine Miles Davis + Pink Floyd’s “On The Run” + a simple Madlib beat.) Now picture that journey expounded to nineteen tracks, and that’s what Flying Lotus basically is. You’re Dead!, in a way, seems to have encapsulated every single album FlyLo has done.

The opener, “Theme,” sounds eerily like a black hole opening, with it’s orchestra-like vibrancy droning off into the atmosphere. Not even a minute in, the track breaks into a spacey jazz cadence. The following three tracks tread improvisational space jazz grounds, all while segueing perfectly into one another, like one really long track. Hyperactive bass grooves, nimble and quick drumming, and power riffs help keep each track different, while also keeping them perfectly, for lack of a better term, “turnt up.” These jazz improvisations feel so vibrant, alive, and pumped with ludicrous amounts of adrenaline, as if Flying Lotus made the gunpowder and lit the fuse by himself.

The real hint of fireworks comes on the track “Never Catch Me,” which features iconic rapper Kendrick Lamar, virtuously rapping one of the best rhymes I’ve heard all year, as well as embodying the album’s statement. “Analyze my demise, I say I’m super anxious/Recognize I deprive this fear and then embrace it,” he quickly spits, cleverly incorporating the album’s concept perfectly.

Among Lamar are a slew of other artists such as Snoop Dogg, FlyLo’s rapper alias “Captain Murphy,” Angel Deradoorian, Thundercat, and Niki Randa. Even legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock makes an appearance, upping the ante on the album’s jazzy side. However, it’s in Snoop Dogg’s featured track “Dead Man Tetris” that I first encountered disappointment. Not that the song as a whole is bad, the production is pretty good and it sounds aptly like a video game. Yet the vibe of the track seems clunky and pales in comparison to the overall feel of the album; it probably would’ve benefited from being an independent single rather than appearing on this album .

The rest of the tracks range from fully fleshed out tracks to brief interludes: the hauntingly beautiful suite “Coronus, The Terminator,” the harmonious “Descent Into Madness (feat. Thundercat),” the sample heavy “Turtles,” the grandiose “Obligatory Cadence,” and the deep psych-jazz cut “The Protest”; these all stand equally on their own, fully illustrating FlyLo’s technical prowess and ear for a good tune, compositionally and stylistically. And while all these songs are packed with incredible production and heaps of creative ideas, they never drag on. This nineteen song album clocks in at only thirty eight minutes, the longest track being a little over three minutes, the shortest, just about thirty seconds. So while every song is meaty to its core, they’re fleeting and not too overwhelming for newcomers to Flying Lotus.

Perhaps the most striking part of this album is the overall approach toward “death.” Take a look at the music video for “Never Catch Me,” attached above. The kids are dead, yet they’re dancing like they just won the lottery and driving off into the sunset as if they just got married. The main point that I feel FlyLo is trying to drive home is that while death can be mysterious, foreboding, and at times, limiting in terms of lifespan, that doesn’t mean we should be afraid. An aspect of the Jesuit way of life is finding beauty in all things: nature, buildings, sports, movies etc. Flying Lotus’ greatest feat yet is laid out on the table on You’re Dead!: he’s found beauty in death and has fully displayed it throughout these nineteen tracks. Fear is the ultimate limiting factor, and it is a fact that WE ALL will end up fearing death. But when you’ve seen death as the opposite of completely desolate, it makes both sides—life and death—much more worth the ride, and the experience, truly showcasing its immaculate and uncompromisable beauty.

 

THE VERDICT Infusing jazz, electronica, hip-hop overtones, a slew of talented guest artists and neo-psychedelia, all with an experimental approach. Flying Lotus crafts one of the most profound and noteworthy albums of the year. As he explores death and beyond, FlyLo takes his conceptual approach towards his music and transforms these trademarks into an album that, despite its short running time, makes an everlasting mark, all while remaining just as meaningful. You’re Dead! will no doubt make my Top 5 Albums list and will be a record I will listen to frequently in the near future. I urge everyone with the desire to listen to new music, or anything at all, to listen to this wonderful album.

FAV TRACKS: Theme, Tesla, Cold Dead, Fkn Dead, Never Catch Me (feat. Kendrick Lamar), Turkey Dog Coma, Stirring, Coronus, the Terminator, Siren Song (feat. Angel Deradoorian), Turtles, Eyes Above, Moment of Hesitation, Descent Into Madness (feat. Thundercat), Obligatory Cadence, Your Potential//The Beyond (feat. Niki Randa)

LEAST FAV TRACK: Dead Man’s Tetris (feat. Captain Murphy & Snoop Dogg)

Score: (9.4/10)

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Austin City Limits: Winners & Losers

These past two weekends, Austin’ s Zilker Park hosted the Austin City Limits Music Festival with 130+ bands in attendance. Many big names in the music business made appearances, but every band was given a chance on one of the 7 stages around the 46 acre plot of land. Some bands really brought it and drew a crowd. Others, however, were abandoned by festival goers due to a myriad of reasons.
 
*Editor’s Note* Be sure to click on the names for links to songs by the respected artists.

Winner: Trombone Shorty and the New Orleans

I know exactly what you are thinking, who is Trombone Shorty? This man ran around the stage with a trumpet and trombone respectfully and blew the crowd away. His energetic performance intrigued many, but his talent for live performance created an atmosphere of pure fun as he managed to sustain a crowd of college kids with jazz. He began with a bang, a loud note from a trumpet rang in the air for a couple of seconds, and then it began, the trumpet solo that all others shall be measured against. He ended his performance as he started, going out on top and definitely winning over many fans. Geaux Shorty.


Loser: Iggy Azalea

First off, Iggy is not a rapper. Side by side with Eminem and Outkast, Iggy’s rapping sounds (for lack of a better term) terrible. There is no flow in her rap, and she does not perform well in front of a crowd. Whenever she felt the crowd getting bored (which was quite often), she would take a break and dance for a bit. Her performance lacked any substance, and she eventually lost most of her crowd to Lucius or Icona Pop.

Winner: Major Lazer

Major Lazer are known for their live performances, and the reason is not because their music is great. Diplo and Walshy Fire had by far the craziest performance of the weekend. Diplo played any music that he thought was good, including songs from Kiesza and Steve Aoki. His attitude towards his performance was refreshing; he would rather everyone have a great time than appreciate his music. Mission accomplished. It was fantastic; his combination of lights and mesmerizing music made the crowd forget that they were in one of the capitals of rock and roll. At one point, Diplo put himself inside a blown up ball and walked over the crowd.

Winner: The Avett Brothers

The Avett Brother’s performance was reminiscent of the good old days in Austin, when all you needed was energy and rock and roll. They had a cellist who ran across the stage constantly while playing, alongside a double bassist, a fiddle player and a pianist. The two brothers sang separately and together, playing multiple instruments throughout. Their performance was what Austin City Limits was and always will be at its core. There is a movement towards EDM artists and more mainstream pop bands at ACL, but the Avett Brothers came to show that it is still all about rock. They barely played any of their top hits and slower songs, refusing to let the crowd lose any energy.


Winner/Loser: Childish Gambino

World renowned for his freestyle rap and his ability to energize a crowd, Childish Gambino drew a large crowd. He was fantastic for his performance, proving to everyone that he has a place on stage next to Foster the People and Eminem. Towards the end of his performance, however, he mysteriously left the stage. Two of his music videos played, and, afterwards, he went to center stage to say thank you and left. This was very odd, and nobody understood what was going on.That being said, the bulk of his performance was fantastic.


Winner: Gramatik

EDM showed up for this festival, proving to the purists that electronic music has a place in Austin. Gramatik is a name that is known around the electronic community, but  is not very well known to anyone else. At the beginning of his performance, the crowd stretched 20 feet, and at the end it stretched 100+ feet. His performance was loud, and demanded to be heard. He mixed his odd electronic style with a local guitarist to make a sound never heard before. He is on the cusp of fame, and in a couple of more festivals, he might have his big break.

 

The Ultimate Winner: Outkast

 

I waited an hour and a half for Outkast, standing 20 feet from the stage anxiously. The skies opened up and the the opening for “B.O.B” began. After 20 years, Outkast showed no rust and gave a brilliant performance. They played all of their hits: “Roses,” “Hey Ya!,” “So Fresh, So Clean,” “Ms. Jackson,” and so many more. In between songs they would include humorous commentary. The sound quality was great from where I was standing, but further back there were some complaints. It started with Big Boi and Andre 3000 together inside a see-through cube. After a few songs Andre 3000 left to give Big Boi the stage with Sleepy Brown. Again, after a couple of songs, Big Boi left the stage for Andre 300. They were reunited once again for the last 4 songs. Overall, it was the best performance at ACL, no question.

Honorable Mentions:

Foster the People

Capital Cities (not one hit wonders)

Eminem

Skrillex

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"Tyranny" Julian Casablancas + The Voidz

Julian Casablancas + The Voidz

Tyranny Album Review

Cult Records

Released September 23, 2014

Genre: Noise Rock, Experimental Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Noise Pop, Dance Punk, Electronic Rock, Synth Rock, Garage Rock, Punk Rock

Stuck between a mechanical, industrial nightmare and the caress of a leather glove, Julian Casablancas’ Tyranny is truly compressive record that matches the indulgence of that first clause. And distortion is the recurring sentiment throughout in terms of thematics and indiscernible lyrics. Every track is a dense retention of static and noise though the melodies sit close enough to the surface to provide alleviation from the oppressive crunch.

Not to say that I disliked the erratic structure of Tyranny, in fact I loved the move away from the lacklustre rock-pop direction Casablancas took his initial solo record and the previous two Strokes releases. Tyranny has a toe in hardcore, dance-punk, psychedelica and even taking from African influence encased in squealing guitars on ‘Father Electricity’.

For many, Tyranny will be an alienating hour and a bit of music. Between the deafening barrage of “M.utally A.ssured D.estruction” and the dystopian garage-rock of “Business Dog” there is nary a upbeat riff and bouncy bassline in sight, just unrelenting compression throughout. Because Tyranny is a dark record, the feeling of knotted up guilt and frustration embeds it in Julian’s voice, yelling harder than he ever has previously through megaphonic modulation, his convictions, though hard to decipher, seep into the mix like a Terminator through prison bars.

Now, if you’ve settled in to the crushing production and feeling of an impending demise so far that you’ve got past the first couple of tracks, get comfortable. Most of these tracks push the five minute mark and while it may first seem that the wall of noise doesn’t justify such drawn out tracks, the dynamic intricacies do reveal themselves over time. For the most part, Casablancs does a spectacular job navigating song structures through back alleys not frequented and banging sharp U-turns; take ‘Crunch Punch’ for a spin or the paranoia that creeps around the corners of ‘Nintendo Blood’

Broad in it’s ambition and entirely claustrophobic, this offering from J.Casablancas and the Voidz isn’t for the faint hearted nor the unsuspecting Strokes fan. Ranging for lurching spats of rage in the last chorus of ‘Where No Eagles Fly’ to the anarchic majesty of the 10 minute sprawl ‘Human Sadness’, there’s something for everyone and equally a lot for none.

THE VERDICT
While Tyranny will probably cultivate a divisive reception, for me, it’s finally plugged my craving for an artist to blend volatile punk with the Streets of Rage 2 soundtrack. At it’s worst Tyranny is overly indulgent, asphyxiating and hard to digest and at its best, wonderfully unstable.

FAV TRACKS: CRUNCH PUNCH / BUSINESS DOG / WHERE NO EAGLES FLY / FATHER ELECTRICITY

LEAST FAV TRACKS: XEROX / OFF TO WAR

SCORE: (7.4/10)

song-of-innocence-u2-album-cover

"Songs Of Innocence" U2

U2

Songs Of Innocence Album Review

Island Records

Released September 9, 2014

Genre: Rock

Listen: (Check your iPhone or Apple device)

The “surprise album” has been a working concept over the past year, from Jay Z’s “Samsung-only” marketing scheme for Magna Carta Holy Grail to Beyonce’s “out of nowhere” approach. But how about the “Surprise! you already have it!” gambit that U2 just did at the Apple Cupertino event on September 9, 2014? Unprecedented. Surprising? Not so much. Whether it be their incessantly annoying AIDS awareness campaign which, at one point, literally had you choose “AIDS or our music” or their gregarious concert tour, U2 will literally do anything to stay relevant in this decade, even if it means shamelessly sneaking their new, mediocre release onto every Apple users’ phone.

Described as “their most personal album”, Songs Of Innocence is a collection of songs rooted in U2′s core inspirations. So it isn’t a huge surprise to find some punk and new wave influences here. U2 helped craft some of the most iconic melodies of the late 20th century, with stellar albums such as the classic 1987 album The Joshua Tree and 1991′s Achtung Baby. With songs like “Where The Streets Have No Name” and “One”, there’s a lot to expect from U2: more of Bono baritone introspection, The Edge’s recognizable, glistening guitar tones, and drummer Larry Mullen Jr.’s driving drumming, the band has cemented itself in music history. However, Songs Of Innocence is a collection of songs that even the youngest of today’s bands wouldn’t dare pen.

Songs Of Innocence fails in its attempt to keep U2 relevant in today’s culture. And in their prime, it seems that they were aware of what made a great pop hit. But now, it seems as if they don’t know how to. Additionally, U2 seems to have failed at re-inventing their sound; besides “Every Breaking Wave” and “California (There Is No End To Love)”, most of the songs lack memorability and innovation.

However, I commend U2 on the array of sounds that they’ve created: the gritty “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)”, the nostalgic atmosphere of the ballad “Iris (Hold Me Close)”, and the reverb heavy “Cedarwood Road”. All these styles surprisingly work well together, never feeling misplaced or adrift. But as I said, U2 have failed at trying to maintain their relevancy with Songs Of Innocence. Sure, they’re one of the biggest and influential acts out there but that justify the mediocrity these eleven songs hold.

THE VERDICT

While Songs Of Innocence, a generous gift from Bono and the boys, may be owned by pretty much everyone on the planet, it may not be loved. The U2 we’ve come to know has written tunes with much more ambition, skill, and ingenuity. Songs Of Innocence sounds like an audacious proclamation: “Hey we’re still here!” The sad part is that Songs Of Innocence is so disenchanting to care.

FAV TRACKS: Every Breaking Wave, California (There Is No End To Love)

LEAST FAV TRACK: Volcano, Sleep Like A Baby Tonight

Score: (4.5/10)