L.A. beat scientist enlists Herbie Hancock, Snoop and more for a joyful concept album about death
Steven Ellison likes using jazz elements in his electronic soundscapes: See 2012's harmonically antsy Until the Quiet Comes and other projects with his virtuoso bassist pal Thundercat. But on the L.A. artist's fifth Flying Lotus set, joined by Obi Wan elder Herbie Hancock and a team of shredding genre outlaws (cosmic saxophonist Kamasi Washington, ex-Mars Volta drummer Deantoni Parks and Metalocalypse guitarist Brendon Small), Ellison makes the boldest, most fully engaged fusion of the hip-hop-laptop era.
Ellison's West Coast pals Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar (and Ellison himself, in his rap alter ego Captain Murphy) rhyme about astral planes and out-of-body experiences – not as stoner escapism but to meditate on the set's death-minded theme. Yet this is a joyous session: swinging, dropping the funk, often moving so fast you can't tell if notes are coming from humans or cyborgs, which is clearly a theme here (check Lamar's morphing flow on "Never Catch Me"). The idea was to make music that'd impress Hancock's ex-boss Miles Davis – "a jazz record," Ellison has said, "that would fuck him up." As tough as Miles was, you get the sense that You're Dead! would have done the job.