Blue Sky Black Death
Label: Fake Four
In the decade that West Coast Production duo Blue Sky Black Death have been active, they’ve racked up a diverse list of collaborators whose sheer number is rivaled only by their tireless work ethic. Most known for producing entire albums for a variety rap artists more varied than most entire rap labels (Wu-Tang affiliate Hell Razah, backpacker favorite Jean Grae) as well as indie-rock artists like Yes Alexander, the two have also managed to make a name for themselves with some of the most well-received hip-hop instrumental albums ever released. For an outfit named after a skydiving term for the ultimate rush of the activity’s pleasure and fear, the tremendous chances they’ve taken more than does their moniker justice. Adding one more daredevil feat to their list of accomplishments is Third Party, a collaboration with one-time labelmate Alexander Chen (of Boy in Static and the Consulate General – NOT the hyperrealist), and while the match-up seems like it should shoot for the stars, the results are partly-sunny partly-cloudy.
One of BSBD’s greatest strengths is their ability to carve and maintain a signature sound and still play to a collaborator’s strengths while hiding their weaknesses with their catchy complexities. Even though Third Party still distinctly maintains the duo’s sound, it rings a little too close to Chen’s other works. While the 10 songs are all original tracks, a cursory listen could allow moments of it to almost pass for a Boy in Static remix album. When members Kingston and Young God have, in the past, crafted entire remix projects for rap artists by using their acappellas, they still managed to open up new perspectives on the MCs performances while maintaining faithfulness to the source material. Here, even with the guise of full-on collaboration, there seems to be an uncharacteristic hesitance to really push for something different. If anything, it feels like an Alexander Chen solo album that just happened to be produced by Blue Sky Black Death rather than the other way around.
That’s not to say Third Party is necessarily bad; there are a few genuinely interesting avenues explored that make the lesser moments in between somewhat forgettable. The instrumental “Threads of Gold” is an ever-engaging inspirational endeavor that sounds like a post-everything “Chariots of Fire.” The album’s closer “Scandal” also matches Chen’s top-of-his-game lyrics with a confidently vulnerable performance that BSBD’s sound caters to perfectly. It’s unfortunate that the album then ends as it seems to be just getting started, which makes revisiting the album thinking you may have missed something all the more disappointing.
While Third Party is a noticeable departure from their hip-hop work, it’s an even greater jump from their distinct consistency. Perhaps the kitchen needs another cook to keep things interesting as the territory covered here is just too familiar to be as exciting as the collaboration looks on paper. Fans of Chen’s work will undoubtedly be pleased, but for a Blue Sky Black Death album, the Third Party once again proves to be only for passionate extremists.
by Chaz Kangas