Retro Dizzy is not an unfamiliar name on the South African music scene. Patrons of Psych Night events will be well acquainted with the band’s vivacious blend of surf rock and gritty punk rock tinged by psych rock influences. For ease of reference, the band’s style can really just be referred to as surf punk – as much as I dislike frivolous sub-genres. It is a sound that is best appreciated alongside a few shots of Jägermeister and gaggle of strangers with whom you can dance. They’re band that perform their best on the live stage where the frantic energy and groove of their music is palpable.
However, they encounter a bit of a hitch in their sound with the release of their sophomore album: Creatures of the Black Desert. The way psych rock albums go – Creatures of the Black Desert is actually a rather decent album. The band presents themselves as a grungy and gritty group of psych rockers with a penchant for dishevelled licks of guitar and retro throwbacks to 60s punk rock. The rapid wall-to-wall bursts of frantic guitar licks and bluesy vocals tinged with a degree of 80s hair metal chic of “Lick Your Tongue” followed up by the groovy blues-styled musings of “My Baby Got Electrocuted” showcase a band set on carving out a niche in their local music scene.
The only problem is that, despite their frantic energy, Retro Dizzy have still managed to make a rather lacklustre and drab album. Which is surprising considering the fact that the majority of the songs clock in at under three minutes, and for the most part are deliciously fast-paced songs drawing on the varied influences of psych rock, punk rock, and left-wing indie rock. It quickly becomes apparent that the reason for Creatures of the Black Desert’s lacklustre atmosphere can be found at the start and the end of the album.
The problem comes in the form of the two longer songs on the album: “Swing Softly” and “Brothers”. The opening and closing songs of an album should set the tone for the entire album, but this is not the case with these two songs. They rather serve as a means to dial back the mood before Retro Dizzy unleashes a bevy of vivacious surf punk anthems, but it is a dialling back that should be found halfway through the album in the form of “Honey”. Instead, their attempts at drawing out the songs with guitar melodies come off as being showy and unnecessary.
That being said, I will stand by the fact that as psych rock albums go – Creatures of the Black is pretty decent. You’ll just have to forgive the lacklustre attempt at producing melodic pieces of psychedelic rock and rather focus on the snarling yet groove-laden surf punk that dominates the rest of the album.