I’ll just get straight to it: Seattle, Washington’s own Blue Sky Black Death – the hip-hop production duo featuring Kingston and Young God – make the most beautiful beats in the world today. No contest.
As I’m sure many a-reviewer have [correctly] pointed out, so many producers aim for the cinematic, grandiose, emotive sound in hip-hop and fall short of the mark. BSBD, however, haven’t just nailed the shoegaze-influenced sound. They are the masters and the album NOIR + VIOLET is proof.
NOIR + VIOLET is BSBD taking inspiration and creative liberties with their own tracks from their brilliant album NOIR. While the tracks are screwed, there are a couple of things that you’ll notice about how they’ve gone about it. The first is that it isn’t ridiculously bass heavy. In my experience with screwed tracks, it’s normally so bass-heavy that I end up feeling like someone ripped out my eardrums and filled the ear canal with mud from a nearby swamp. Secondly, the semitone change isn’t low enough to give you the impression that you’ve just been injected with a lethal cocktail of heroin and Wray & Nephew’s Overproof Rum, thereby influencing your brain to make it seem the world around you is moving in slow-motion.
No, BSBD have gone about doing this album with the same painstaking attention to detail as they have done with any other release in their discography. From the moment the warm, warbled synth in Our Hearts Of Ruin floods your senses, I was fixated on every single audible nuance. Hearts is incredible, exhibiting grace and beauty in an effortless fashion. The strings used are so gorgeous and warm, you’ll think BSBD punched through your ribcage and played ran a bow over your heartstrings. Another great track is Sleeping Children Are Still Flying. The guitar solo is enough in its own right to get your tear ducts working. The instrumentation featured in Sleeping Children is immense: a perfect-blend of electronic and traditional instruments moving at a punch-drunk pace, actively triggering a multitude of different emotions.
There are two tracks – in my opinion – that are joint kings of the NOIR + VIOLET mountain: And Stars, Ringed and Sky With Hand. The former is simply breathtaking, as the seemingly-reversed exhale at the beginning of the track aptly implies. Before you know it, you’re being whisked away toward the exosphere but done so at a deliberately comfortable speed. The bounce in the drums; the luscious and inviting ardour of the pads and strings; the anthemic one shot of the brass sample; the haunting ambient vocals featured throughout all combine to make for an otherworldly aural experience. The latter track is a musical triumph that possesses enough power to potentially bring tears to the eyes of the most hardened human being on Earth. Sky is very much old-school soul and gospel inspired, made abundantly clear by the guitar and vocal samples which all posses that unmistakable swing we all know and love. Once the strings come in and the track builds up even more momentum, the crescendo makes a bigger impact than the meteor that hit Earth in the film Deep Impact. Few songs I’ve listened to over the years give me that floating feeling but this one makes me feel like I’m flying. Incredible stuff. Other notable moments include… well. How about every single track on the record? That’s no exaggeration. I couldn’t and didn’t skip a single one when playing this album back for the first time and I still can’t do it.
VERDICT: I’m going to sound like Barack Obama here but… let me be clear: NOIR + VIOLET is without doubt the most beauteous, wonderfully-crafted, soul-stirring album I’ve heard this year. Some might argue that the screwing of the tracks from NOIR make them boring and too slow but I would counter that argument by saying that they simply came in with the wrong expectations. This album is a modern-day masterpiece and is a prime example of what instrumental hip-hop can be: mind-bending and achingly brilliant art.