Blue Sky Black Death may want to do without guest vocalists for a little while. West Coast producers Kingston and Young God teamed up with a different low-key singer on each of their last couple of albums, but the real allure was still in the duo's layered, expansive instrumentals. Then there was the drama a few years back over Jean Grae team-up The Evil Jeanius; the New York MC went on Craigslist and MySpace to protest the "unauthorized" use of her rhymes (she said it wasn't the beat-makers' fault). BSBD have collaborated with plenty of other indie rappers, most recently including tourmates CunninLynguists, but their latest album suggests they can acquit themselves just fine on their own.
As Clams Casino's first beat tape earlier this year demonstrated, some of the best rap instrumentals these days can work equally well as moody electronic music, drifting naturally between the worlds of hip-hop or R&B and ambient, post-dubstep, or chillwave. Noir has a similar way of wringing strangely affecting emotional grandeur from the rudiments of sound, though BSBD's style relies less on glitch or drone and more on starry-eyed orchestral vastness. Using an impressively naunced deployment of strings, piano, and guitar as well as drum loops and hazy synths, the album has a patient, steady beauty, ranging from glowing panoramas evoking M83 to the classical-informed abstraction of Anticon acts like Dosh and Son Lux.
The duo's acronym is apparently skydiver slang, popularized in the 1994 thriller Drop Zone. It implies, "Sure, appreciate the majesty of nature all you want, but if something goes wrong you'll leave a grisly corpse." If Noir can't quite fully embody that essential paradox-- it's not particularly noir-ish, either-- it still succeeds in communicating incomprehensible hugeness through sonically detailed tracks with an almost narrative-like structure. There are several standouts, but a good place to start is "Sleeping Children Are Still Flying", which uses a humid Southern-rock guitar solo and languidly triumphant drum programming to support a string section, a children's choir, and a snippet of dialogue from classic 1986 coming-of-age dramaStand By Me: River Phoenix is talking about dreams, and missed chances. While the kids and the symphonic elements would have no trouble fitting in on an indie pop beach fantasy by Air France, those blues-drenched licks could just as easily soundtrack one of the Weeknd's dangerous liaisons.
Noir isn't completely instrumental, then, and in fact uses sung samples as well as the spoken-word variety. But the strongest voice here is BSBD's own-- wide-screen and Technicolor, to mix sensory metaphors. An aching soul vocal from Solomon Burke's "Don't Give Up on Me"is secondary to a sighing, silvery arrangement and pulsing bass on brief interlude "Falling Short"; Dusty Springfield's version of "The Windmills of Your Mind" complements the hypnotic repetitions and emotional anguish of "Farewell to the Former World", which despite its melancholy theme has a snare-heavy rhythm track fit for blasting through car windows on hot days. Or for rapping over: Three years after BSBD's last proper instrumental album, Babygrande release Late Night Cinema, Noir again proves the duo don't need singers or rappers to make their music felt. But that doesn't mean an aspiring MC or two might not be able to make use of their services anyway.
If you like Clams Casino, you'll probably like this as well. Personally I love it