Strange name great music
The nice thing about writing about the music that I bought at some point in the past (in this case an estimated thirteen years ago) is that I get to see a lot of the albums in a completely new light. Especially the outliers, the spontaneous purchases that weren’t based on knowledge of the artists and their work but based on what I heard (in this case on decks.de).
This is what I didn’t know about Blue Sky Black Death – or BSBD – and their music at the time of purchase:
Prior to this album, the two producers (Ryan Maguire a.k.a. Kingston and Ian Taggart a.k.a. Young God) had collaborated with a lot of Hip Hop and Rap artists, some of them from Wu Tang affiliated groups. Here’s an excerpt of the guest list: Holocaust, Hell Razah, Jus Allah, Wise Intelligent, Cechi, Chief Kamachi, Mike Ladd, Rob Sonic.
That’s maybe half of the artists that were part of the five albums BSBD had published prior to “Late Night Cinema”. None of which had come to my attention, I must admit. When I bought this album I literally knew nothing about BSBD, not even the name.
This is what I did know at the time of purchase:
Simple: I knew that this must be a really good album. I found it online, checked out the preview listening bits, I was impressed, I clicked the “buy” button. That was that, and that’s how a lot of music enters my collection – I like what I hear.
And this is what I thought when I heard it:
Just like everyone else, I try to find references for what I hear when I dive into the music of an artist that I don’t know at all. Were my first associations anywhere close to this being Hip Hop? Indirectly, at best. I thought that “Late Night Cinema” was a rougher and darker version of Hidden Orchestra. There’s that distinctly cinematic feel, the orchestral touch that is supported by violins and trumpets, and a dose of emotion that is far more generous than what you get on most Hip Hop productions.
Listening to the first two tracks on the album – “The Era When We Sang” and “Lord Of Our Vice” – the thoughts and impressions don’t travel over to the Wu Tang Clan but a little bit farther back in time with echoes of Massive Attack’s classic “Unfinished Sympathy” and the ambience of DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing” album with a similarly elegiac and calm attitude – and a much welcome tendency to go far beyond the usual track lengths of a Hip Hop tune.
These two tracks will probably have already been enough to convince me back in 2008. So much quality in production, such well orchestrated storytelling – and the album keeps delivering more. “Ghosts Among Men” gives us dramatic scenes with intricate drum programming, fine vocals and an almost classical organ theme. Again, the parallels to how Joe Acheson arranged his music on the first Hidden Orchestra albums become almost obvious – this is way beyond a “typical” Hip Hop production and clearly not based on sample wizardry.
It’s not even as bleak as the name Blue Sky Black Death may suggest. Dramatic, a little dark – but not a sinister or morbid kind of dark. A piece like “A Private Death” may suggest such a tinge but it’s not darker than Shadow’s “What Does Your Soul Look Like”. The following “Shoot You Dead” is misleading in the same way – this is not a threatening gangster ballad, it’s a slow and melancholic beauty with a genius guitar sample and plenty of time to lay it all out lavishly. If at all, I would have requested an extra three or four minutes. By far my favorite track on this astonishing album.
This is as good as Unkle should have been after “Psyence Fiction“. With every track the plot thickens, the concept of BSBD becomes clearer, the specific space they want to create on the outer edges of Hip Hop is defined. Sometimes the Shadow/Unkle parallels are a little too easy to put a finger on – but at no point does this album try to imitate that style. Think of an album that would just take “Endtroducing”‘s “Midnight”, “Building Steam” and “What Does Your Soul” and then continue down that road for a whole album.
It still makes me wonder why the name would have been chosen. Black Death will always lead my mind to think of the bubonic plague – even though this is obviously not the intention. It’s actually skydiver’s slang. Enjoy the blue skies, beware of the earth below. When a skydiver has a fatal incident, BSBD is what other skydivers say to salute them. BSBD is their version of RIP.
The opposite of this is what really should have followed after an album that has so much quality. It’s not like nothing happened after this album – there were at least four more after “Late Night Cinema” and these two gentlemen sure haven’t lost their touch. I just think that they should be among the most sought after producers on the planet. But who knows, maybe some day it will still happen. There’s always hope, even in the bleakest moments.
Release for review:
BLUE SKY BLACK DEATH – LATE NIGHT CINEMA – BABYGRANDE – BBG-LP-1062