San Francisco collective 40 Thieves have hardly been prolific since releasing their first EP, the winding, organic nu-disco warmth of Point To The Joint, back in 2006. Since then, the Bay Area trio have released no more than a handful of singles, though it’s fair to say that the majority of those were rather special. Most notable, perhaps, was their 2008 cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Don’t Turn It Off” on Permanent Vacation, which recast the saccharine, slow-burning original as an intoxicating chunk of stylized dub disco. There was also a brilliant, single-sided ‘80s radio style megamix of classic electro and early house records for Rong Music (the fantastic “Yo Spaceship Megamix”), an EP of laidback nu-disco grooves for the same label, and a couple of hazy, vaguely Balearic dub disco outings on Leng. That, though, is pretty much it – quality rather than quantity all the way.
It’s something of a surprise, then, to find that this long-awaited debut album from Layne Fox, Jay Williams and Corey Black’s loose collective of producers and musicians stretches to 20 tracks across two CDs or four slabs of wax. Either they’ve suddenly become very productive, or – and this is more likely – they’ve been hoarding tracks for years, waiting for the right moment to release them. Regardless, making your debut album this epic is either a sign of confidence – a belief in the quality of the material, in other words – or a massive gamble.
Whichever way you look at it, The Sky is Yours is a daunting prospect for first time listeners. Thankfully, the trio has pitched it just right; while rooted in dubby, prog rock-influenced Balearic disco and pitched-down, stargazing punk funk, there’s enough variety and interesting influences to retain interest throughout the album’s 105 minute duration. Production-wise, it’s interesting, too, delivering a neat balance between live instrumentation – most noticeably percussion, keys, bass and electric guitar – and dancefloor-focused electronics. There’s a stylized, slightly out-there feel throughout, too, in keeping with the understandably cosmic feel that has always been a hallmark of music from the US West Coast (think of the slightly psychedelic, sun-kissed compositions of Sorcerer, the dub disco and punk funk of Ben Cook’s Stranger project, and the heady deep house that’s long been associated with the area).
Throw in continual shifts in tempo – from the rubbery disco-punk thrust of “Les Planetes”, to the woozy midtempo bump of “List of Two”, via the decidedly intergalactic prog rock atmospherics of the almost horizontal “The Sandpiper” (well cosmic, maaaaaan) – and you’ve got an album that’s beautifully pitched, with its own distinctive, unique voice. Put it this way: the gamble has definitely paid off. That’s not to say that it’s without fault. Such is the epic nature of The Sky Is Yours, it will take you quite a few listens to get your head round it. I’ve been listening to it on heavy rotation for several weeks now, and I still feel like I’m discovering new things. To use the old cliché, it’s an album that “rewards repeat listens”.
Listening in this immersive manner, over a period of weeks, reveals a multitude of highlights. There’s the intergalactic Italo stomp of “Carousel” (all vintage synths and darting electronics), the off-kilter ‘80s electrofunk of “Escape Tonight”, the surging, soaring nu-disco vibrancy of “Face Full of Fur” (snigger), and the hazy new wave synth-pop bagginess of “Rhythm Queen”. The Sky Is Yours is an impressive debut, albeit one that takes a fair bit of time to fully consume. It’s undoubtedly worth investing your time in, though, and 40 Thieves’ sheer ambition should be applauded. Given their track record, we could be waiting a long time to hear another album.
1. The Sky Is Yours feat. Alona
2. List of Two
3. Rhythm Queen
4. JP Soul
5. Les Planétes feat. Qzen,Alona
6. Face Full of Fur
8. Steady feat. Alona
9. Backward Love
10. Drum Sum
11. Outer Mission
12. Carousel feat. Alona
14. In Your Space
15. Zott Enough
16. Crystal Mountain Thunderlude
18. You Wanna feat. Alona
19. Being in Love
20. The Sandpiper