Wandile Mbambeni: Collaboration is Key to Creativity

In the run-up to the release of his third EP, Cape Town based acoustic-afro-folk artist Wandile Mbambeni has been lounge-hopping the city with his band. With the idea to bring the music to the people, hosts have been offering their homes to a series of WM Sessions, unplugged, acoustic and secret.

“As musicians we need ears,” says Wandile, settled comfortably in the wood panelled hidden gem which is Neighbourhood on Long Street. “We can’t always rely on people coming to gigs, and if we’re not gigging there’s nowhere to see us except online. So we decided to bring our rehearsals to the people.”

With a Rocking the Daisies Hemp Stage set now firmly under his belt, as well as several solidifying Espresso and Beerhouse performances, Wandile has been active on the grounds of Cape Town’s music scene for some time, although attention has never been hotter than it is now. Moving to Cape Town on a whim almost two years ago has seen his music grow in leaps and bounds. “It was a very spontaneous move – kind of like pick up my bags and go type of thing,” he says with a laugh. In the wake of his first Afrika Burn, a fleeting week in the Mother City and a rousing opening set for Matthew Mole in Port Elizabeth, Wandile took to the road to the Cape and never looked back.

With a brand new EP, Good Intentions freshly recorded on his arrival, Wandile then enrolled to study sound engineering at the SAE institute, which in turn paved the road to the formation of his upcoming Maturation EP.

“That was what put my guitar down. That took me into producing and coming up with my own sound,” he explains. “That’s how the maturity in the music came through – and that in turn led me to getting a band because I wanted to replicate what I was doing live.” The EP was recorded with the involvement of a five-piece band, who have been backing Wandile in the majority of his performances since. “The amount of work which has gone into the EP is about as much as would have gone into an album,” he adds “It’s huge, we’ve got interludes, intros and outros – but in the end we decided to stick to it as an EP.”

While there is no definite release date for the project, a significant amount of hype has built around it, and Wandile already has nebulous plans in the works for a collaborative remake of the EP. “I have this idea – once I’ve released this non-collaborative EP I want to come back to it and get the legends involved – Hugh Masekela, Don Laka – and get them to remake it. Sort of like a tribute to them.”

Ambitious dreams, but what is a life lived full without some wild ambition? In addition to his musically inclined endeavours, Wandile has a keen interest to integrate involvement among all creatives within the Mother City – and the Artist Network Programme is yet another one of his dreams when it comes to launching into the multifaceted scope of the creative industry at large.

“I’m going to open a coffee shop,” he says, his eyes lighting up. “It’s going to be a place for artists – photographers, writers, musicians, designers – where they can hang out and network. That’s the easiest way to collaborate for us I think.” With a deep-seated love for art of all aspects, he is prepared to launch into every facet of it which may boost his music as a whole – from visual art to fashion design, and even to festival organisation. “I’m all about collaboration,” he says with a grin. “Teamwork makes the dream work.”

In Review: Rocking the Daisies 2016

Photographs by Aaron Polikoff

The journey to Cloof Wine Estate has become something of a pilgrimage; Rocking the Daisies an annual October ritual for the vast majority of music loving millennials. The festival has raised the bar consistently and astutely over the years, their greening initiatives stoically kept, and the sheer magnitude increasing every spring.

It’s a Thursday now, eleven years down the line, a less-than-comfortable breeze is blowing and by 4pm it has manifested itself into a howling gale. This has done nothing to deter the masses from arriving in droves. A winding snake of cars is visible as far as the eye can see; the campsite is crawling with tents battling the wind and a line of rainbow flags fringing the dam flap furiously. The brand new Bridges for Music stage is bravely pumping out electro beats while echoing thwacks announce the Campsite Stage sound check. Rocking the Daisies, it’s good to see you again.

I can only brave the icy wind long enough to catch The Tazers’ rollicking psych-rock extravaganza. Within minutes the Joburg-hailing rockers have riled the crowd into a mosh-pit mood and I dodge flailing heads and elbows for a good half hour before heading back to camp.

Friday dawns, chilly but bright, and a wander into the now open main arena reveals just how much the festival has expanded. The Green Village has been transformed into an open, vibrant trading zone, quaintly decorated with hanging plants and adorned in temporary thickets of shoulder-high trees. About 20 people are exuberantly hula hooping, and to the left you can cycle up a smoothie. The Superbalist activation station offers both bedazzlement and rope swings, while the Main Stage area is massive, a flapping roof of multicoloured flags forming the striking backdrop. I choose to give Red Tape Riot’s slightly underwhelming quintessential set a miss after one song, but Diamond Thug usher me back with their charming tunes the moment they take to the stage. Chantel Van T is a darling in over-sized rose-coloured glasses and lilting vocals. Their set is slick and slips past with effortless grace.

DJ INVISIBLE

 

Several hours later finds me shouldering my way to the railing in anticipation of Native Young. This is their second year gracing the Main Stage and with both an album and a European tour under their belts the African-psycadelic-pop outfit has been high on my schedule since they were announced. Armed with marimbas, bongo drums and an array of guitars, they proceed to play a captivating set of deliciously groovy tracks until they are cut prematurely short by the adamant sound guys.

The Hemp Stage is alive and electric and I arrive just in time for the tail-end of Wandile Mbambeni’s charmingly bouncing set. He’s followed by Well Done Sun, whose unfortunate technical difficulties are offset by their eclectic melodies and satisfying tempo changes.Back at Main Stage Mac Miller is late and pretty underwhelming. I have secured myself a sideline vantage point and stay for all of three songs before turning away. It’s icy, and even the promise of Das Kapital can’t keep me from my tent.

Mac Miller

Saturday is off to a slow start and the dismally chill wind prevails. The Lemon Tree Theatre provides some shelter and belly laughs courtesy of Deep Fried Man and his collection of droll parodies. Now it’s 2pm and Matthew Mole has raked in one of the biggest daytime crowds the Main Stage has enjoyed thus far. Backed on drums by Josh Klynsmith (Gangs of Ballet) he powers through his set with the gentle confidence of a musician still slightly perplexed at the attention he has received. His stage presence is undeniable. His performance is unrivalled. The crowd know every word, shriek delightedly when his dad joins him on stage, and roar as he concludes explosively: balancing a water-soaked drum on the hands of the audience and proceeding to beat it till the final note.

An hour later I am back for Hugh Masekela, worming my way into an impassioned crowd as Bra Hugh, slightly stooped but fiery-eyed as ever, soaks us in a glorious collection of deeply African songs. “Welcome to the township furnace!” he calls halfway through his set, and we roar in jubilant return. This performance is a treat of note.

The sun drops and the temperature with it. After donning the necessary multiple layers of clothing, I proceed to divest myself of them as Crimson House’s Hemp Stage performance spins the audience into a frenzy of fun. Abandoning them halfway through we skid into the packed Main Stage crowd just in time to catch Mango Groove’s final tracks. It’s over 30 years down the line and Claire Johnson has lost none of her verve. The pennywhistle is as sharp as ever, the energy is electric and the crowd, old and young, knows almost every word.

It comes as no surprise that Grassy Spark proceeds to play one of the most riveting performances of the entire festival. These guys know how to make a crowd move and they stop at nothing to get there. They are on fire from the moment they step onto stage, brimming and overflowing with unparalleled energy. Khaos Cotterall and Rudebobobos (The Rudimentals) saunter on only to add to flaming sparks, and by the end of the set I half wonder if Foster the People can top this.

Grassy Spark

They can’t. Despite their slick performance, unrivalled professionalism and crystalline psych-infused sound, there is something distinctly lacking. Dressed all in white and vaguely resembling a collection of clones or scientists, they barely interact with the audience and slip quietly from one song into another. Even “Pumped Up Kicks” doesn’t quite have the necessary kick and they depart the stage with little fanfare save for the multi-coloured firework display which goes up minutes later.

Sunday dawns, bright and sunny, and we can finally peel off the layers and venture with confidence into the open. The Plastics and Desmond and the Tutu’s wrap up the Main Stage with impressive vigour and in spite of the general mass evacuation of festival goers the two raked in remarkable crowds for the festival’s explosive conclusion. The Beach Bar is thumping but my feet are far too tired. Daisies darling, we’ll see you next year.

Native Young: The Road To Daisies

Possibly one of the most exciting up-and-comers in the local music scene right now is Native Young, a Cape Town hailing African psychedelic pop band whose intriguing melodic fusions have seen them take on a remarkable number of stages since their relatively recent inception. Recently returned from a European tour and fresh off the plane from Malawi, the band caught up with us ahead of their upcoming Rocking the Daisies performance this Friday.

I think an apt place to start would be on the topic of your newest release, the “Crystal Lion” video. It’s an incredibly poignant offering. Can you tell us a little about the process of creating it and the message it intends to convey?

The song itself is about unrequited love and lust – we really wanted the video to reflect the struggle and beauty of these emotions. The concept was put together by Yannick and director Jasyn Howes after seeing some of the devastating discrimination of lesbian women in disadvantaged communities in South Africa. We were inspired to subtly explore the innocence of a ‘forbidden’ love as opposed to a sensationalist focus on the injustices being suffered – hoping that this kind of focus would send a message of love being pure and natural in all forms – existing on a level above any cultural or societal discrimination.

You also recently released your debut full-length album, ‘Kings’ – an equally striking musical project. How long was the journey in creating it and what was it like?

Recording the album was an adventure rich with life lessons – it’s filled with so many stories and the fingerprints of every incredible person who has touched the project since it’s inception. ‘Kings’ took about 6 months to record at Rootspring studios in Muizenberg – however, the album was written over 2 years in Noordhoek, Khayelitsha, Philippi and Muizenberg. It was a difficult yet profoundly rewarding journey to complete it.

The album is broken up by a number of interludes and many of the tracks feature dialogue and conversations – incredibly interesting and striking additions to it. Were any of these scripted or were they simply off the cuff material you recorded to add in?

None of the interludes is scripted. Alejandro and I spent a year meeting and jamming with musicians from Philippi to Muizenberg while putting the live band together. We made a point of recording these encounters with cameras and mics – often forgetting to switch them off. It’s these moments in between rehearsals and jams, riding in cars, sitting on mountain tops, busking on the beach, conversing about life, love and music – that make up the interludes.

You recently returned from a European tour and are headed off to Malawi in a couple of days. How was the experience in bringing your music to another audience and country entirely?

Europe was an amazing experience from start to finish. We played the biggest music festival in Germany, Fusion, which was a huge milestone for us. We went on to spend time busking and collaborating with local artists in Berlin, playing a range of incredibly special shows in Spain and performing for a 10 000 person strong crowd in France – our biggest festival audience yet. We were totally blown away by how positive the reception to our music was and will be returning for a much bigger tour in 2017. We definitely came back feeling inspired and ready to take on new ideas. Our intention has always been to do something meaningful with the Native Young project both culturally and musically – we now feel even more motivated to fulfil this wish.

The music Native Young creates is starkly African and yet wholly original within our scene. Where do you draw influence from?

We draw influence mainly from our natural surroundings -living in Africa provides an abundance of inspiration.  Of course, we’re also inspired to write about personal experiences and we often derive inspiration through our collaborations with Other African artists.

Since Native Young’s inception, you have all been very involved in a number of musical initiatives in several townships throughout Cape Town. Can you tell us a little about these projects?

There are two main initiatives – one being Philippi Music Project – a project run by local musicians who set up container studios in Philippi to record young artists. They joined forces with us for our album launch and a few of their artists have performed with us on stage at the last two events we hosted in Philippi. The other is Isikhokelo school choir in Khayelitsha. They featured on our album and also performed the opening track at our album launch. Yannick will also be including them in a new project for 2017.

We hugely enjoyed your set at Rocking the Daisies last year. But with a new album under your belt and a swiftly growing audience this year, what can we expect from your upcoming Daisies performance?

You can expect the fire of African hearts! That’s all we’re saying 😉

Catch Native Young on the Main Stage, Friday, 5pm

Retro Dizzy: Album Fundraiser

Cape Town based psychedelic surf rock band Retro Dizzy will be playing a huge album fundraising show on the 23rd September 2016 at Mercury Live, so we decided to throw a few questions in the direction of the band ahead of their performance with Dangerfields and Runaway Nuns.

Your two previous full-length albums, Youth is Like a Loaded Gun and Creatures of the Black Desert, have given us a wonderfully well-rounded insight to your sound as a whole. What can we expect from your upcoming project? Are you planning on introducing anything new into the mix?

Well, welcome to a whole new world now. We have added a new cadet to battle the front line of the SA Music Scene and put our flag where it belongs.

You have been very highly praised on your sophomore album, ‘Creatures of the Black Desert’. Has this changed the way you’re approaching the upcoming record in any way?

Yes. It’s a new record. A whole new record and we will be doing this completely different. Let’s not talk about what we have done but what we will do.

The upcoming fundraiser gig is looking to be quite the whopper of a party. Have you guys worked or performed with Dangerfields and Runaway Nuns before?

Yes, we have played with them. What we do isn’t work.  So this is great. Great things. We may or may not be doing a compilation with one or two of the lads on Friday.

Psych-rock is fast once again become a very integral constituent to the local music scene. Where do you see the genre going from here, and how would you like to aid in that? 

They have been very supportive towards us and we love and appreciate them dearly. But there is no scene, it may seem like it cause many bands are in relationships with each other, we don’t take influence from them and they don’t do the same.

I know the band was originally formed in Hermanus before your relocation to Cape Town. Have you found the move influenced your approach to your music and the growth of the band in general?

We may have started in Hermanus but this band has grown and morphed into a whole new creature. Cape Town has that effect.

Andre has become and integral part of this band and he’s from fucking Pretoria. Andre is sitting on a lazy boy playing a strange instrument so nothing really matters, does it?

In addition to this upcoming gig, do you have any other special performances on the cards in the near future?

We will play this Friday and next Saturday and then hibernation until Endless Daze Festival.

Single Review: Dahl Hates Disco – Endless Motion

Hailing from beneath the curious genre of nu disco house, with a sound falling directly in contradiction to their name, James Dahl’s musical brainchild Dahl Hates Disco have just dropped their latest offering. The Johannesburg-based electronic band teamed up with soWHAT Records earlier this year: a boutique label which has produced a number of high-profile musical offerings of late. In a scene simply brimming with brand new talent and countless electro offerings, newcomers need to work hard to find their niche and Dahl Hates Disco, with a refreshingly old-school take on the scene at large, looks promising.

The brand new track, “Endless Motion” is a densely layered, highly textured composition. Bordering on EDM but never quite tipping over the edge, the song finds a comfortable balance that and 1980’s-esue disco synths – all neatly underlain with heady baselines. Silvery female vocals contribute a simultaneous softness and power to the track as a whole. Forming a consistent overlying component they weave in and out of play, with the strangely unpredictable melody when it comes to the builds and drops. Perhaps it is part of their charm, but her vocals appear rather off key at times. Chiming synths and tinkling electro elements weigh in to wrap up the track, in the wake of a series of satisfying drops as the grooving disco beats meander to a halt.

Single Review: Royal Commoners – Grace

 

It is a treat these days to come across a truly riveting debut offering from local talent. The latest such indulgence comes in the form of Royal Commoners’ “Grace”. The edgy Cape Town based folk-rockers are a charming and wholly welcome addition to the local scene with a sound just quirky enough to set them apart from the recent influx of similar musical outfits. With over a year of collective live performance under their belt, the band finally saw fit to release this studio recorded tidbit for our enjoyment.

A chiming, high-key acoustic guitar progression lays the foundational bricks for the track within seconds. Marieke’s full, rolling vocals swiftly take to centre stage to complete the simplistic, albeit striking, intro. With curious, unpredictable ease the track gains and loses energy. Building upon its self with a series of percussive and acoustic layers, it intermittently morphs into a richly textured musical landscape before slipping back to its simple roots.

A heady percussive baseline wanders in and out of focus, contributing a deliciously grounded aspect to the song as a whole, while the vocal melody is charmingly varied and equally strong as she croons, “Grace, hold me while I’m alone/ vindicate this cold out of stone/ you were the only one/ you were with me.” Wonderfully rhythmic and tastefully eclectic, this is one of the best debuts to come out of 2016.

EP Review: Early Hours – First Light

 

This debut offering has been a long time coming. Formed three years ago, during the final dregs of their high school years, Early Hours have gradually been vamping their sound on an impressively successful small scale until now. Having won Converse’s Get Out of the Garage competition in 2014, as well as landing a number one Spotify single in 2015, the CCapetonianthree-piece’s sounds are far from unfamiliar. The five-track EP, aptly dubbed ‘First Light’ has now solidified the band’s presence in our local scene firmly.

The project itself is a charming, chiming collection of indie-pop anthems, whose electronic edges snag delightfully at the listener with their deft earworm qualities. The EP opens on “Dance Along”, one of their pre-released tracks which has been making its rounds over the last few months. A keyboard progression forms the basis of the song; while Jake Bennett’s clarified vocals, which form the focal point of the EP as a whole, sweep back and forth across their musical canvas. While their sound is hot on the heels of their fellow indie contemporaries such as Al Bairre, slightly weak lyrics leave one wanting just a little more.

“Tidal Pools” pairs pattering percussive effects with heady baselines to produce a stark Britpop sound we’re all too fond of. Deftly crafted to suit both radio play and live performance this track is bred for a good party, as Bennett’s clear vocals croon, “He brings stormy weather and a silver lining.”

Forming a somewhat underwhelming hinge in the middle of the EP comes “Mojito Midnight”, who’s floaty, synth undertow does little more than vaguely pique interest – while “Smells Like Summer” brings back the heat in an instant. Easily the best track on their resume, this lilting, bouncing pop anthem should be familiar to anyone who frequents 5FM’s airwaves. Reeking of romanticised summer months, crystalline waters and scorching sea sand, this is a song you are unlikely to get out of your head for hours. A sultry baseline forms the crux upon which the trip-happy track is built. With heady whiff’s of the early 2000’s pop-rock stylings we all admit to being partial to, the feel-good offering makes for a damn good boogie.

“Into the Wilderness” ties the knot on the EP neatly with a soft, even-keeled synth opening giving way to a marginally slowed down version of their signature energy. Perhaps as close as they’ll come to a crooning ballad, there is just enough oomph present to maintain the vigour they have built. Thematically drawing on the unsettling idea of heading into the unknown, this appears to be an appropriate closing point. As a small band with big dreams, Early Hours has nowhere else to go but up.

8/10

Live Review: KONGOS at Hillcrest Quarry

Photographs by Shae Frank.

For those less inclined to take the annual big trek up north for Oppikoppi this year, One Night in Cape Town has you covered. The international acts of the grungy rock festival are hosted over the span of several days over various stages throughout the Mother City; and South African-born, USA-relocated KONGOS, high on the list for those of us who have known and loved the alt-rockers for years, are aptly hosted at Hillcrest Quarry.

Located at the mouth of the rehabilitated quarry in the heart of Durbanville Hills, this venue is something of a hidden gem which deserves far more attention and could easily play host to some of the worlds’ biggest musical names – if it weren’t for the somewhat limited capacity. The parking lot is situated right at the top of the quarry, and by the time I arrive Sannie Fox’s lilting timbre is floating from the dusky purple stage below. I take a moment to appreciate the rocky walls, thrown into sharp relief by roaming lights, before beginning the descent into the venue.

Despite being the middle of Cape Town winter, it’s a balmy night and early-comers are spilled across the lawn, swaying gently to Sannie’s rolling sound which is wafting from the stage. We haven’t eaten and made our way to the scanty food stalls in search of fuel. An overzealous trader and a definitive lack of self-control on our part see us leaving with a bizarre chip-salad concoction which we pick at gingerly as Sawagi prance onto the stage.

Shae Frank 2016

The Japanese four-piece toured with Shortstraw during their Japan tour in 2014 and the local indie-rockers brought them to South Africa early last year as special guests at their “Youthless” launch – so I am a little peeved when the underwhelming MC informs us of our apparent lack of knowledge of the group.  If nobody knew who they were before, however, they certainly will now. Their infectious, genre-breaching blend of dance-funk anthems are some of the most original and eclectic I have come across of late. Fizzing with energy and simply ecstatic to be here, they plough through their set, pausing only to eagerly greet us several songs in. Their energy is contagious and I laugh as the front man delightedly raises his hands in a heart at the close of their set. We pass them later in the crowd and trade a congratulatory high five.

Shae Frank 2016-2

Taxi Violence is up next. Twelve years in the running and with a wealth of accolades and awards under their belt, one can always trust the Captionan rock ’n rollers to put on a good show. It’s been several years since I saw them last and while they have lost none of their zesty stage presence I feel their latest offerings have a slightly watered down quality. Their bubbling energy is enough to bring even the last stragglers to their feet, however, and even two technical glitches part way through their set do little to quell their vigour.

It’s getting chilly now and we squeeze deeper into the crowd both to secure a decent vantage point and steal some warmth as we wait for KONGOS. The last time they toured South Africa was in 2012, and now with a brand new album, Egomaniac, hot off the press, their set promises to be a memorable one. The four brothers grew up in London and Johannesburg before relocating to Arizona several years ago. A lot may have changed since they last graced our stages but their energy is as palpable as ever – and from the moment they bound onto the stage behind a thick screen of white smoke the audience is wrapt.

Shae Frank 2016-4

A selection of oldies eases us into their set and the die-hard fans filling the core of the crowd are screaming along to “Sex on the Radio” with impassioned grace within seconds. A selection of old and new tracks create the bulk of their set and they bounce neatly between them. The heady, pitching vocals of “Take it From Me” follow up on the grinding baritones of “Come With Me Now”. Their live performance is as gritty and polished as they come. All four brothers contribute in varying degrees to the vocals while Johnny’s piping accordion transgression contributes perhaps the key element in what makes these guys so different.  Although their sound smells vaguely of the twisted stylings of the Black Keys and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, there is a solid, foundational edge which is wholly theirs.

Shae Frank 2016-3

They invite their stage manager, Mo Gordon to join them about halfway through their set: tiny and donned all in green he proceeds to wow the entire audience with a mash-up of an original rap verse and a collaborative rendition “Come Together” by The Beatles.

We decide to leave one song early, in order to fully appreciate just how well the quarry actually serves as an acoustic venue. It takes all of five minutes to climb and gain a decent vantage point: of the blue-lit quarry and a sea of heads, as the band bring their set to a tumultuous close on, “I’m Only Joking” – and it is quite something to have their poignant lyrics thrown up at one from the lookout of a cliff edge.

View full photography gallery here.

Album Review: Juggernaught – Full Grown Woman

This Pretoria-hailing rock outfit has quietly been going since 2007; however, it wasn’t until the release of their sophomore album, Bring the Meat Back that Juggernaught became to gather serious momentum within the local scene. Now they have returned once again, with their third full-length offering, Full Grown Woman: a peculiar marrying of the blues-jazz-metal influences they count within their music.

Self-described as a musical piece of lumbar funk, the album is steeped in midnight-black tendrils of sound which quickly wrap around the listeners’ throats, arms and legs and then, just as swiftly, release them. While the technical jazz aspect to the sound is perhaps what aids in setting them so neatly apart, it has to be maintained that Herman’s vocals are one of the sole constituents which provide the jaw-dropping edge to which they hold perpetually true. These grinding, growling baritones, which if one didn’t know any better would usually be assumed to be electronically affected, forms the focal core of this band as a whole.

The album opens on “Animal Farm”: a witty spin on George Orwell’s ethos which lays bare the apparently animal-like political issues of South Africa. An off-kilter percussive progression drives the sound steadily forward through the sticky, tar-like darkness of the track, before giving way, through a bizarre transgression, to a significantly lighter sound. An under-toned narrative kicks in through the final third of the song, consisting of a recording of Jacob Zuma’s infamous number reading blunder, further highlighting the cause they are trying to take with the track.

A heady baseline welcomes “Devil’s in the Retail” while their bluesy influences make a welcome appearance in “Carry On”, whose simplistic, stripped down qualities don’t last long. It’s a tricky thing to keep an eleven-track album neatly on its toes in order to keep the listener engaged – and while Juggernaught does their best to do so, they tend to fall short at times – “Work With What You’ve Gone” being an unfortunate prime example. In spite of their occasional lapses into energised monotony, however, it never takes long for them to regain their balance.

“Kick Like a Mule” is a wildly organised cacophony of sound which reeks of a Thursday night at Up The Creek, while “Waiting” is peppered with tick-tocking percussion and a jangling guitar riff. The title track opens on a whining guitar progression which bleeds into the robotic vocal intrusions which make their appearance later on. Closing the album on an aptly poignant note comes “Run”, whose lighter vocals and gently grooving sound are a welcome, albeit strange, digression from their characteristic, heavy metal-esque verve.

6/10

Single Review: Sutherland – We Are The Love

Since their inception in 2013, this Jozi-hailing indie-folk outfit has been hard at work making a name for themselves within the scene – and with much success. Having been booked for their second performance at Oppikoppi this year, as well as Woodstock SA’s inauguration in September, it’s clear that Sutherland’s chiming alternative stylings have not gone unwanted of late.

Their latest offering, “We Are The Love”, is steeped in tinkling aesthetics and charming percussive effects. A light keyboard melody opens the track, with the soft clicking of fingers serving as a backing beat. Gently foot-tapping, their sound tends to sneak up on the listeners and catch them neatly in their gossamer-fine web of sound.

Grounding the silvery harmonics of the song are the vocals. Although almost as gentle as their counterparts, they serve as a lifeline of sorts to the roots of the song and intermittently pull it back onto solid ground before allowing it to drift once again. Gaining energy steadily as it advances, the track dips and sways, kite-like until reaching a peak of perfectly stabilised evocative energy.

Thematically the track is quietly love-centric, outlining just how tricky it is to maintain a relationship which has been smooth-running far too long – “Something’s got to give / I’ll pull myself back together / Somehow we could see ourselves for what we are.”

Single Review: Naming James – Bury My Bones In Joburg

Jamie Acheson, better known by the stage alias Naming James, is a Joburg-hailing acoustic folk musician. In the wake of his previous two releases, The Butcher’s Knife (2012) and The Night (2014) comes a musical veer in a slightly new direction – although his self-labelled machete guitar style remains much the same. “Bury My Bones in Joburg” is a bubbling, wonderfully localised track in which James patently exhibits his deep-rooted love for the City of Gold.

The song is dominated by a gentle, quietly cheerful acoustic guitar melody, backed by equally placid percussive effects. The resulting sound is a calmly upbeat and endlessly foot-tapping epitome of his chosen genre. Husky vocals, whose melody, unfortunately, slips swiftly into the realm of monotony, seem just a tad buried beneath their melodic counterpart.

Lyrically, however, the tracked is wonderfully steeped in purely Johannesburg-esque urban culture. In a cutesy ode to his hometown – to which I am sure a number of us can relate – James strings out the names and games of the quietly iconic facets of Joburg. There are few Johannesburg-ers who won’t jump in happy recognition to the casual reference to the White Horse Inn. “From Rocky Street to Roxy’s / Ellis Park to ESP,” he cheerily chimes, wrapping the city into a neat, reminiscent package of sound.

Single Review: By the Water – The Motherland

Motherland has fast been gaining traction within the local alternative musical community with their catchy indie-folk-rock sound recently. The group, who gradually grew in numbers over the years since their inception, are now a five-piece whose grooving sound is just edgy enough to hold and sustain one’s attention.

Their latest offering is “By the Water”, a deliciously catchy, dance-worthy track which solidifies the band as one of the more exciting up-and-comers in the scene of late. Opening with a grooving, base-driven melody which is gradually overlain by a distantly echoing guitar riff, it eases the listener into the waters of their sound with just the right amount of zest to keep you engaged.

Midway through, it launches in a rollicking, rock-driven choral riff in a burst of sudden and welcome energy, before slipping with effortless grace back into the catchy simplicity of the opening bars. Lyrically the song is strikingly minimalistic; with full, rolling vocals and a matching harmonies easing in and out of focus. With a remarkable sound which slots right into the narrow gap left in the indie-rock market, this is a band to keep a very sharp eye on.

EP REVIEW: The Loneliest Monk – Let’s Talk

The Loneliest Monk is a brand new musical outfit, recently emerged from the intricate woodwork that is Cape Town’s underground music scene. Hailing from beneath the genre of stoner jazz, The Loneliest Monk comprises of James Nevin (Unknown James) and Christian Chandler. Hot on the heels of their inception comes their debut offering, a two track mixtape EP, ‘Let’s Talk’.

Curiously married into one eight-minute track, the EP carefully and concisely lays out just what this duo have to offer. The project opens on a warping, high key synth progression, which swiftly gives way as a quiet, jazzy electro melody seeps into the mix and takes over. Varying synth intrusions weave in amongst one another, intermittently sidling in from the peripheral to take to the forefront of the track time and time again – and in no distinct sequence.

Their sound is slow and effortlessly ambient. Easy listening melodies comfortably pair with a blunted baseline, laced with jazzy synth work. A vocal intrusion makes its appearance about halfway through, in the form of interview audio. It drifts in and out of the limelight of the track, never quite long enough to fully make out what she subject is saying. However, it does lend a curiously intricate element to the track as a whole, gracefully fishing the song out of the puddle of monotony into which it had slipped.

Single Review: Stoker – A Stranger Throne

 

On the verge of the release of their new album, Stoker has dropped their final single, “A Stranger Throne”, fittingly accompanied by a charming music video. Although “charming” may not be a word often associated with the Cape Town-based hard-rock band, a sunlit lounge performance in a little countryside house cannot be dubbed anything but quaint. Cutting between a collection of shots of childhood photographs on the mantle and the band setting up for their song, the videos opening blatantly juxtaposes the idea of who the band members once were and where they stand now.

A vaguely psy-induced rock sound dominates the better part of the track. Slow, rolling verses create a false sense of tranquillity before being broken by a series of dramatic, 4-chord build ups and then launches into the wildly rollicking rock sound we know them for. Close up shots of the band and their instruments once again break any possibility of monotony. Chris De Wet Bornman roars into the microphone with conviction and guitarist Redge O’Kennedy wears an Iron Maiden t-shirt.

Within moments, the track has slipped back into the calmness of the verses and you can settle back for a moment or two before the next spike of palpable energy forces you to your feet once again. Thematically the track is a mildly reminiscent ode to how they themselves have changed over the years: “Thoughts of a younger me/ of a stranger me”. Polished and well produced, any rough edges smoothed by the context in which the track is delivered, Stoker present a striking final run up to their anticipated upcoming project.

Single Review: The Deathrettes – Animal

Psych rock is a very rapidly growing facet of our local music scene these days. Over the last two years, a vast number of garage bands have come crawling from the woodwork to plant themselves firmly in weekly local line ups – most often including The Assembly’s notorious Psych Night. Among these you may find The Deathrettes: a Captonian 4-piece with barely a year together under their belts, who have just dropped their debut single, “Animal”.

Centred around the idea of returning to the very roots of humanity – an animalistic instinct – the track opens on a naked drum beat, honing in on the very core of the song. Swiftly overlain by two contrasting strings of electric guitar melody, the track then takes on a densely woven symphonic quality. The vocal constituents, however, find themselves somewhat drowned by the symphonic aspect. While lyrically the vocals tend to catch one’s attention, little to no layered effects in the song result in the bleeding of vocals and melody into one another – resulting in a somewhat indistinct distortion of parallel meaning.

All the same, the track is suffused in catchy, rollicking rock sounds, whose gritty fingernails brush your melodic skin but never puncture. Bordering of what could be just too much, but never crossing the line, the song steps to a close among a final, heady dose of screamo and a whining guitar riff.

Album Review: Fire – Majozi

 

Newly signed to one of the most auspicious labels in the world, Universal Music, electro-folk artist Majozi has just dropped is 12-track debut ‘Fire’ in the wake of his hit single “Darling”. With South Africa – and indeed the world – having developed a renewed partiality to the genre over the last few years, Majozi has slid easily into the slipstream and has swiftly made a local name for himself. Seeing him open for The Lumineers as well as accompanying Francois van Coke and Die Heuwels Fantasties to Amsterdam earlier this year.

There is a vague element which rings rather true of Matthew Mole’s sound in the chiming folk-inflected love songs which largely make up the project. However, the Durban-hailing musician maintains just enough individuality to be placed in a parallel category from where his distinctive tones slip into the niche he has created for himself.

A gently rolling melody opens the album with “The Lighthouse” as a lightly swaying sound underpins the vocals which take to the forefront of the track. “Fire” changes tack somewhat as a muffled baseline pairs with a jangling acoustic guitar progression. Lower key vocals present a definitive rhythmic quality while the chorus, to put it quite simply, sounds like an acoustic pop anthem. Laced with catchy hooks which successfully make up for the somewhat repetitive aspects of the song, this track is simply bred for radio play.

A sudden, almost undeveloped opening introduces “All You Need”, catching you off guard only to lapse into simplistic melody. Oozing romantic notions the track is a floaty ode to love as a whole as it cites the ever-present – and apparently never-old – cliché: “All you need is love.”

Island nuances waft their way delicately into “Where Do We Go” while “Darling” and its catchy earworm phrases will bounce around your mind long after the last note has faded. There is an unfortunate, highly Americanised constituent to the album as a whole, largely due to the accent adopted throughout the majority of the songs. The album takes a striking turn, however, as the opening bars of “The Woods” play homage to Majozi’s South African accent, which is refreshingly prevalent for the better half of the track. Following closely in its footsteps is “Mzali Wami”, featuring Bafikile and Solo, which opens on the jangling sound of the umuduri – a traditional African instrument consisting of a wooden bow with a gourd attached to the lower end, whose string is then played with a textured stick. This coupled with Bafikile’s Zulu vocals contribute the proudly South African inflections we have been waiting for throughout the entire project, serving as a delightfully multi-faceted morsel to bring the album to a close.

6.5/10