Stoned & Dethroned - Nacho Picasso & Blue Sky Black Death review

It's hard to know where to start with Blue Sky Black Death.  While hip-hop production duos like Hudson Mohawke get lauded with praise for being on point with whatever beat trends are the current zeitgeist- you get the sense maybe Blue Sky Black Death doesn't get their proper due.

Known as Kingston and Young God they are thought of a Seattle based team.  That's not exactly it.   Kingston (Ryan Maguire) started his career in the Mafia retirement capital of Canada Guelph, Ontario.  Known then as Orphan he started the record label and collective Plague Language with the prodigious rapper Noah23.  Members of Plague Language include Baracuda, Livestock and DJ Madadam (Noah23 had various projects - with Baracuda he had Bourgeois Cyborgs and his best local collaboration The Weird Apples was with Livestock and Madadam).

Noah, born in Natchez Mississippi emigrated to Guelph, and Maguire's careers were closely associated from the getgo.  Orphan/Kingston completely produced Noah23's 1999's Plague Language, released on CD as Cytoplasm Pixels in 2006.  Young God also contributed production to Plague Language releases.

Blue Sky Black Death, a name taken from a skydiving term, have become associated with a certain immersive often live-instrumentation and live vocal based sound.  They came into the awareness of hip-hop culture through their signing to Babygrande records and collaboration with Wu Tang dark horse Holocaust.  Their debut album Blue Sky Black Death Presents: The Holocaust is something altogether different, perhaps too dark for its time, and never really got its day.  There are one or two live radio broadcasts of Holocaust shrooming and freestlying on the air in Boston that need to be heard to be believed.

On their own they have released only 4 albums; 2006's A Heap of Broken Images; 2008's Late Night Cinema; 2011's return to their live-instrumental essence Noir; and 2013's Glaciers tapping a similar vein.

As collaborators they've been more footloose and fancy free. Stoned & Dethroned is by point of fact not their first collaboration with Nacho Picasso but their fourth.  It's preceded by For The Glory (2011), Lord Of The Fly (2012) and Exalted (2012).  Slated for 2015 they have a release entitled Cliff Of Death II w. Deniro Farar.

People may remember Blue Sky Black Death best from their unofficial remix of Frank Ocean's Pyramids that came out almost exactly a year ago Valentine's 2014.  Their Pyramids remix includes a chopped and screwed sample of Pimp C's verse of Wood Wheel from UGK's 1999 Stoned & Dethroned is a persistently good release.  Normally a collaboration that starts with a track called Coke Hyena listing out a bunch of euphimisms for cocaine would never work.  But Nacho Picasso's lazy nasal drawl and BSBD's innate sense of hope/gloom/foreboding beatscapes just make it work over and over.  The album builds from strength to strength.  Material that could be pedestrian otherwise is left pedestrian but equally exalted by the fine fine production.  Coke Hyena's followed by S, D and R & R (co-prod. Eric G.)  which could be embarassing given it's obvious subject matter. It's not.  Then comes Bastard In A Basket which is about skeeting into tissue- and still it works. Other very high spots on the album include MouthFull of Gold and the singular '89 Dope Spot.

Stoned & Dethroned is one of the first 2015 releases truly worthy of putting into heavy rotation presuming your freak flag is already at least at half mast.


Bob Marley & The Wailers - Santa Barbara Bowl (11.25.79)

Bob Marley & The Wailers
(Survival Tour)
Santa Barbara Bowl
Santa Barbara, CA
November 25, 1979

Positive Vibration
Wake Up and Live
Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)
Concrete Jungle
I Shot The Sheriff
Ambush In The Night>
Crazy Baldhead
The Heathen
Ride Natty Ride
No More Trouble
Africa Unite
One Drop
So Much Things To Say
Is This Love
Kinky Reggae
Stir It Up
Get Up, Stand Up

Purity Ring - Another Eternity (leak and weak)

To quote the Grateful Dead- 'maybe they had too much too fast'.   The production and singing duo of Corin Roddick and Megan James don't seem like the drug reference particularly applies though.  In person they come across more like studious art music nerds with no time for messing about.  Puritanical musical work ethic and all that, pardon the pun.

They may have had too much exposure though.  It seems like a maelstrom of hype since 4AD announced and ultimately released the perfect Shrines on July 24, 2012.  Having toured extensively on their own and with indie titans Grizzly Bear they got a lot of stage time in early in their career.  Conversely, although both hail from Edmonton, their recording was done largely at a distance with Roddick perfecting a beat and then emailing it to James who would add her vocals at a distance.  Its a frequently common form of collaboration, particularly in hip-hop, but in their case they hit kismet sonic gold on every single track.  Live and on record their were not so much singles and low points as different facets of Shrines.  They were just that good.

This is all before Danny Brown somehow got a hold of them.  The combination of Molly and their melifluous beats and mesmerizing live show undoubtedly had something to do with it.  They remade their brilliant Belispeak as Belispeak II.  Later they were asked to produce a beat and be featured on 25 Bucks one of the few strong tracks on Brown's middling album Old.  They seem to have fleshed out a bit of a niche in Hip Hop as they didn't seem to do much in 2014, besides working on Another Eternity, other than produce a beat for Ab-Soul God's Reign for his album These Days...

Not that you'd really hear a strong Hip Hop influence on the album.  In fact whatever Roddick is doing is further back in the mix then one would have anticipated.  Gone are the almost choral effects he charmingly concocted by his custom percussion array resembling a futuristic steel pan set up.  In its place are a mewly melange of current EDM tropes that just sort of drift by without drawing any attention to themselves.  At points it sounds like some ill intended collaboration with a big room EDM DJ like Avicii.  Other moments you almost expect Pitbull to come out for a guest verse.  What is Megan James doing through all this.  Well she's singing a lot that's pretty hard to avoid.  But instead of the treated clipped and more obscure vocal delivery that was a hallmark of Purity Ring's sound she's just doing what quite a lot of women are doing in the very broad field of Electronic Dance Music these days- and not particuarly well.  Kingston (of Blue Sky Black Death)  now going by Ultra88 has accomplished something much more pleasing to the ear incorporating electronics and the female voice on his new release Sirens. James lyrics presumably have meaning and yield to introspection but its unclear because the album - and this is painful to admit because I had the highest of hopes for this group and delighted seeing them up close at NXNE the year of their ignition  - is another eternity to make it through to the end.

What happened?  Undoubtedly this is the album they wanted to make even if they have softened all the quirky edges that endeared their sound.  The overall sense one gets is artists that had too long, too much resources, too much input trying to create an album with crossover appeal.  It may have been that they worked best with little resources, and that working at a distance may have been unique to their creative process.

Another Eternity:
01 heartsigh
02 bodyache
03 push pull
04 repetition
05 stranger than earth
06 begin again
07 dust hymn
08 flood on the floor
09 sea castle
10 stillness in woe