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September 13, 2013 at 11:50 AM
The ambient ambition of Blue Sky Black Death
Production duo Blue Sky Black Death’s upcoming fourth solo album Glaciers — out October 1 — has just six songs on it, but only one of them has a runtime under 10 minutes. True to it’s title, the expansive compositions are “slow-moving, giant, and freezing-cold” epics that fully realize the group’s signature ambient instrumental sound.
Recently premiered track “III” which repurposes and expands upon a loop from “Black Hearts” — the eerie opening track from last year’s Presents: Skull & Bones album featuring local rappers Bolo Nef and Caz Greez — was recently revealed to have over 240 individual audio tracks making up its 13:27 runtime. Members Kingston Maguire and Ian Taggart say that “III” is the first time they have taken a rap track and expounded on it for an instrumental album.
“When we lived back in Santa Rosa like in ’05 we tried to do a 15-minute song,” Taggart says. “We never really finished it, but the idea was always there… we came to a point where we were actually able to execute it.”
Blue Sky Black Death’s Friday show at Chop Suey is their second stop on a large-scale national tour hitting 40 US cities. They say the set will include both older tracks remixed and repurposed for a live setting and plenty of unreleased or remixed material. The group says they have remixes of tracks by Run the Jewels (El-P and Killer Mike) and Nicki Minaj with S.A.S., as well as original songs featuring Gucci Mane and Freddie Gibbs in the works — continuing a noteworthy 2013 after releasing a song featuring Harlem rap legend Cam’ron earlier this year. A new 1-hour original video/film projection made by Kingston specifically for the tour will provide a backdrop to complete the “Glaciers” experience at the show.
The production duo is often thought of as local artists, with even national outlets often reporting that they hail from Seattle. And though they recently revitalized the city’s underground by pioneering a moody, electronic-leaning rap subgenre in stark contrast with city’s traditional sound with their albums with the now-notorious local rapper Nacho Picasso and the aforementioned Skull & Bones, the group’s roots are in the Bay Area.
Taggart, currently residing in Oakland, and Maguire, who has lived in Seattle for the past few years, first met in person in 2004, when Taggart was living in the SF’s Upper Haight and Maguire in the Richmond District. The two lived in the same Bay Area apartment when they recorded their 2006 debut A Heap of Broken Images, which launched their careers and laid the foundation for their signature downtempo, sample-and-live-instrument-blending beats. The only other time Taggart and Maguire have lived together, this time in Seattle, was while recording the Nacho Picasso collaborations.
“Nacho was a good friend,” says Maguire. “For a few years we hung out everyday and we never did music together. Then [producer] Raised Byy Wolves needed help mixing a couple of the songs for [Nacho’s first album] Blunt Raps… We started adding our own twist to some of the songs and it turned out pretty cool.”
“The chemistry was so good that doing the three albums was like nothing to us,” Taggart adds. “It was so natural, it came off really easily.”
This natural chemistry helped make For the Glory, Lord of the Fly and Exalted some of the most groundbreaking local rap releases in years, even earning abundant praise beyond the Northwest. And though these collaborations were many Seattle fans’ introduction to Blue Sky Black Death, the duo was already nationally known to many underground fans – having previously released three instrumental solo albums and several other collaborative ones with a broad spectrum of rappers and vocalists, from former Babygrande labelmates Hell Razah and Jean Grae, to current Fake Four indie-electronic musician labelmate Alexander Chen.
Most of these projects were produced while Kingston and Taggart were living away from each other, forcing them to send tracks back and forth to work on from their individual home studios, which have “basically the same equipment” to make things a bit easier.
“One of us will start a beat and well send it to the other person, and we’ll just send it back and forth adding stuff and just get to a point where we know when it’s done,” says Taggart. Songs with 240-track arrangements seem like the only natural result for this process, which likely has played a huge part in BSBD’s textured, atmospheric sound.
“You just know when it’s a finished song” Kingston adds, “when there’s nothing you wanna add and nothing you want to change.”
Blue Sky Black Death plays 9 p.m. Friday at Chop Suey, 1325 E Madison St Seattle; $10
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