Review Summary: The BEST instrumental hip hop / trip hop album of 2008.
Instrumental hip-hop, a form of hip-hop that almost goes against the very basis of the genre (in essence, rhythmic poetry), makes the artist's job both harder and easier to create a timeless album in the realm of hip-hop. While the instrumental nature of the music allows for music much more melodic, it often completely leaves the hip-hop category without the correct beats, labeled better simply as electronica. Blue Sky Black Death's Late Night Cinema
, the first album for the production duo to not feature any emcees throughout the album, strikes the balance between the necessary melodicism and hip-hop beats perfectly, making a stunning and enthralling album from start to finish.
With this balance, many will mark the album's primary influence as Endtroducing...
, but besides both albums' incredible melodic composition, these albums have little in common. Beneath that veneer, Late Night Cinema
breathes much more as a whole rather than a collection of samples – largely because many of the parts on the album were recorded live. Instead of a plunderphonic album, Blue Sky Black Death, comprised of producers Kingston and Young God, composed a true musical entity with violinists, vocalists, trumpeters, and keyboardists adding their contributions while still keeping it in the vein of hip-hop.
In terms of production, the album has that decidedly hip-hop feel, a groove completely different from neo-classical electronica, a realm that the album's melodic content takes much inspiration from. For example, the breakbeats in “My Work Will Be Done” envision an ensemble where Venetian Snares provides the background accompaniment rather than the main material. Throughout the whole album, hip-hop cliches are abound in the beats – from the actual drum sounds to the rhythm of the grooves to the fills that transition between parts. Even some of the synth melodies, such as the ones that begin “Forgive Me”, recall modern hip-hop.
What really makes Late Night Cinema
stand out, however, is the way these two aspects blend for an incredible, enveloping sound that even Endtroducing...
could not accomplish for more than a few tracks. The album is dense and packed with material, which is both its greatest strength and its greatest (perhaps only) flaw – at some points the listener doesn't know where to listen. Kingston and Young God know exactly where they stand, however, and each song has enough natural harmonic motion to complete itself, a remarkable feat especially for the lengthier cuts in the beginning of the album. They almost always return to a main theme and link everything together masterfully. Opener “The Era When We Sang” achieves all of this brilliantly, reaching a climax that is capitalized by a catchy trumpet melody that brings a new sense of regality to the sound with its fanfare-like rhythm. Where “The Era When We Sang” delivers its progression harmonically, “A Private Death” does so rhythmically, progressively becoming more intense with more breakbeats and rapid bass drum kicks. The frenetic string sample, which provides the song's main melodic theme, helps advance this nature in the melodic spectrum.
On first glance, it may seem that the duo placed their longest, strongest songs at the beginning of the album to give a powerful first impression that wows the listener until the album's end, thus hiding some of its flaws in the lesser tracks. And after “A Private Death”, it seems impossible that the album will continue its road of excellence. While nothing bests the first four songs (also the four longest), the album suffers from no major drop in quality. “Listen Child” offers relative repose from the constant swirling of melodic material with a simpler format, though still very evolved in comparison to other artists. “Different Hours” uses all its different sounds brilliantly, from the soaring violin to the constant undercurrent of the organ chords, perhaps the most soulful song on the album. Moment for moment, the album never falters, but what makes songs like “The Era When We Sang” and “Ghosts Among Men” stand out is the scope of the composition, the way it weaves so many threads together and remains cohesive.
Those threads extend to tie together the entire album, as it all falls inside an umbrella sound that makes Blue Sky Black Death unlike any other artist around right now. Their combined melodicism and appreciation for hip-hop cliché make an album at first accessible and still worth listen after listen after listen. And, for once, I find myself not going back to Endtroducing...
to get this album, but better. Late Night Cinema
is a beast of its own kind. While they have detailed their future as one of collabaroations with emcees, something they have done twice in the past with Wu-Tang affiliates Holocaust (Warcloud) and Razah, this is a duo that can stand on their own two feet and are best when not suppressed.