Erik Blood and Ishmael Butler try to bring back some mystery with exploratory debut

Working together in the freeform hip-hop crew Shabazz Palaces, producer/composer Erik Blood and musician/rapper Ishmael Butler have always explored the outer edges of the cosmos. On Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star, from 2017, Butler labeled himself a “sent sentient from some elsewhere,” and the sonic backdrop often followed suit, incorporating alien free-jazz textures.

With Knife Knights' debut, 1 Time Mirage (Sub Pop), the two venture to entirely new galaxies, embracing a borderless sound that borrows from shoegaze, soul, hip-hop and electronica, and is limited solely by the pair's collective imagination.

“For a few weeks, we did whatever came out of our heads, and whatever came from our limbs, and that was it,” said Blood, who described Knife Knights as a more collaborative project compared with Shabazz Palaces, which is geared toward bringing Butler's creative visions to life. “There wasn't much intention behind it. … It was just free-flowing movement, like dancing with a guitar in your hands.”

It helps that Blood and Butler are both well-versed in the basics, like master painters who have spent years crafting photorealistic still-life works before embracing impressionism — Butler in pioneering, precise hip-hop group Digable Planets, and Blood in his production work. “My structured learning was all in recording,” said Blood, who joins Butler in concert at Ace of Cups on Monday, May 6, “and that allows me more freedom because knowing the studio basics makes it easier to break those rules.”

Blood met Butler at a 2003 Spiritualized show in Seattle and was immediately struck by how the musician's presence carried the room. “He was just the coolest guy in the world,” Blood said.

The mystique around Butler only amplified with the formation of Shabazz Palaces, owing to a new stage name (Butler re-introduced himself to listeners as Palaceer Lazaro) and press images where the rapper frequently appeared wearing fashions that could have sprung from the way-out mind of George Clinton, and, in one photo that might stand as this writer's favorite publicity still of all time, walking a pair of pythons. This sense of mystery cultivated by Butler added to the music, which felt, at times, like the work of intergalactic hands.

“As someone who grew up in the '80s, when you didn't have access to every musician's personal life, it was cool. So many of the bands that I admired and that I obsessed over were bands that didn't even have photos on their album covers,” Blood said. “It was wild. These people were just magical beings. … Now that doesn't exist, and even the most mysterious artists that we can think of post selfies on fucking Instagram. … Everyone wants to see how the sausage is made. And I don't know if we can bring it all the way back.”