Querencia – a place from which one’s strength is drawn, where one feels at home; the place where you are your most authentic self
Just a mere month ago I discovered a bunch of guys on stage that blew my musical mind to bits. Brynn captivated my soul at Up the Creek with their powerhouse performance, musical magic and array of deep rooted lyrics. They demand connection to their audience, they require attention and Brynn is currently securing fans everywhere they seem to trail.
Brynn’s aptly titled debut album Querencia is in my possession for review. I imagine my current feeling resembles as one who is in possession of gold. Not only my excitement, but my expectation levels reached a standard I was weary these guys would not touch base with. They took those presumptions by the collar, grabbed on and surpassed all preconceived notions with flying colors.
Unvarnished is the one word description I would utter about this album. The richly textured lyrics, the finely executed musical genius of this quintet, rounded off with well mended talent, all poured into a raw blend of arrangements leads to an album I can binge upon. Unvarnished means straightforward, not covered and I feel this describes Querencia as a whole. The album possesses an attractive purity that leaves me at ease to repeat these songs, loud.
Each song structured on this album, places me in a different range of the emotional palette. Some with harder rock infusion , some with softer ballads which ensures a more vulnerable state of mind. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen such a strong line up of musicians come together to create The Quan.
Please don’t judge my current need to refer to the classic Tom Cruise movie, Jerry Maguire. The scene where Cuba Gooding Jnr. stands naked in the locker room and tries to explain the meaning of the word quan to Tom Cruise. Armed with an expressive face and matching hand gestures, Cuba utters,“ It means love, respect, community and the dollars too. The entire package. The Quan.”
Brynn certainly contains The Quan in my humble opinion. This album secures a deep love for the tender reflection they display in the plethora of arrangements to form this piece of gold. Respect has been earned in a rather short space of time for each of these musicians. Jules Terea’s vocals contain an elemental edge and range that ensures the essential punch to Brynn as an entity. The rest of the members attains a strong performance signature that makes Brynn explosive live and on play. Dave van Vuuren on lead guitar displays finely crafted skills which lures in your being, combined with Hezron Chetty on violin who creates heart piercing crescendos. Alex Similie (bass) and Eddie Kriel (drums) compliments the whole attire in showcasing their need to push their boundaries in their selected crafts.
Exploding on the scene ferociously, Brynn has harnessed quite a community with their music, which is admirable in its own. The dollars is in the mix, because I do hope these guys take their career and make a proper living out of their talent, I would like to see them hang around the scene for quite some time. In short Brynn is the whole package, Th Quan.
I will single out 4 songs that I keep close to my heart and loud in my ear. Cotton Mind, Querencia, About Time and Almost Blind seals the deal to the epiphany of an album. Please make sure you make time to go see Brynn live, as I feel to truly appreciate this album you need to experience their dramatic performance for yourself.
Last One Alive are relatively new to the Cape Town and South African music scene, however this project has been over 2 years in the making, and comprises of a super group of local musicians with a wealth of experience to their name. Even though they are relatively new, they have already won a SAMMA (South African Metal Music Award) for their music video for their single ‘Kiss the Ground‘.
Francois, Wynand, Hunter, Johnny, and Snake have delivered another album so perfectly crafted and relevant to the time of its release, just like they always have when we were still teenagers – angry and desperate to find ourselves.
We don’t have to shy our faces when people talk about being Afrikaans, there’s only a handful of Afrikaners holding onto racism and apartheid – we’ve shown the middle fingers to our parent’s ways, the wrongs in Christianity and we’ve formed our own persona’s in the new South Africa. We aren’t pissed off anymore, we are proud of who we’ve become! Continue reading [REVIEW] FPK – Selfmedikasie: The result of our youth!
You Me At Six had a career built on defining the adolescent angst of emo teens on the back end of the mid-2000s emo movement. Pop punk and post-hardcore was being replaced with edgy alt-rock and mainstream metalcore. It was in here that You Me At Six gained traction and success with the new wave of emo kids who gravitated to a strange spectrum of easy-listening yet edgy alt -rock and angst-ridden metalcore that was dripping with just the right amount of abrasive riffs and screamo influences. Their first three albums positioned the band in the middle of this spectrum with their simplistic edgy alt-rock formula and occasional leanings towards metalcore influences. They even got Oli Sykes and Winston McCall to feature on songs in order to give them credibility with the edgier emo kids.
Fast forward to 2014, You Me At Six had just got their first number 1 album in the UK with the release of Cavalier Youth. The band performed a complete turn-around with their music and delivered a radio-friendly stadium rock album that would change the course of their career. The album saw them refining their songwriting and their entire approach to creating music. It was possibly the strongest album that they had released, until now. You Me At Six has just released their fifth studio album Night People – a dark and gritty stadium rock album that truly sees the band coming into their element.
They are at that stage in their career where they are finally finding their groove and defining their sound. This is apparent from how their songwriting has greatly improved since their debut album. That obviously comes with gaining experience but if the band had continued to purse writing angsty alternative rock they would have stuck to the lyrical tropes of love and failed romances that defined their earlier music. At face value, Night People would seem to be about nightlife in the UK, but upon deeper inspection – Night People delivers a multifaceted examination of the darker aspects of human existence. Lyrical themes hint at the doubt that is intrinsic to human existence, the darker thoughts that plagued the night hours, and they even tackle relationship problems with fine-tuned maturity.
The album opens on a gritty and loud note with title track “Night People” delivering a burst of loud stadium rock that has clearly been designed to induce mass singalongs with its meaty drumming and soaring choruses. It opens the album on a strong note and sets the tone for the rest of the album. Namely that this album is going to be wall-to-wall alternative rock designed for wooing major arenas. Intricate melodies and neatly constructed guitar riffs dripping with the grit of the London nightlife dominate the album on songs like “Heavy Soul” and “Swear”. These are neatly complemented by Josh Franeschi’s dynamic vocals which easily switch between melodic, soulful croonings and edgier alt-rock snarls.
However, Night People is not just a rowdy alt-rock album. It has a softer side that comes out on songs like “Take On The World” and “Give” which see You Me At Six pursuing a much softer sound as acoustic guitars and piano melodies come out to support Francheschi’s vocals. However, “Give” fades into electric guitar parts and this shows how dynamic You Me At Six can be as a band. They have several songs on Night People that transition from softer, melodic sections straight into bawdy stadium-rock singalongs. It is this dynamic that shows that they are a band truly in their prime.
The first time I encountered Veladraco was when they opened for Tweak’s 10 year reunion tour at The Assembly. I was exhausted after a long week at university and was probably only there because Tweak was a defining part of my childhood. I had arrived there just before Veladraco took to the stage and had plonked myself and my girlfriend on those leather couches that lined the back wall. Those couches were actually insanely comfortable and will be forever missed. As soon as Veladraco finished their first song, I said to myself: “this is my new favourite local band” and it was probably because they embodied everything that I love about pop-punk and more specifically a style of pop-punk that I lovingly call “shitty pop-punk” – a brilliant style of pop punk that abandons polished sounds in favour of authenticity, honesty and sheer rawness of emotion.
From its first moments, its first lyrics, the record has you in its grasp. TaylorMomsen takes charge with a declamatory significance that calls out to you and forces you to listen because she sounds comfortable, confident. She’s not yelling, just speaking. But, you’ve got to listen because what she’s giving you is new. So fucking new.
After 3 years of shifting gears, considering their footing and coming to terms with the fame that many didn’t expect would take hold. After the teen rock beauty that was Light Me Up and the obvious musical maturation from that which was Going to Hell, The Pretty Reckless takes us on their third journey – Who You Selling For – and it’s a road trip with Momsen at the wheel, Phillips in the passenger seat and me in the back with the Damon and Perkins that proves the entire thesis of this review – The Pretty Reckless is a Punk band. I mean, what gets more punk that a record like this? A record produced by a band that’s taken the shit they have for daring to exist.
The first track “The Walls are Closing In/Hangman” calls out to the listener in a relational mode, asking them to take charge:
“When they come to hang you.
Stand straight. Brace your neck, Be stronger.
When they come to hang you,
And you think you’ve lost control.
Don’t take your soul.”
This is the most authoritative the band has ever sounded. Delivering a genre-meshing sound reminiscent of The Kills but with the edge of any respectable rock ‘n roll band from the 70’s. TPR proves that they’ve learnt a thing or two from their time in the industry. This is a band that has had to fight hard for respect. I mean, for a while there, it really did seem like no one was taking them seriously. From the writers at Variety who dug into their first album, to internet commentators who proffered the infamous “The Pretty Reckless is famous cuz boobs” catchphrase – the band has always had to fight against the current – making them inherently punk by the mere fact that they stayed together.
The fight didn’t get them down, though, and if it did, it didn’t for long. Because there’s a power that pervades this album. But, it’s not showboating – it’s defiance. With this record, they prove that they’ve got the goods to back up their stubbornness. They’ve matured their early recklessness into something great – and can sustain it.
The album moves on to “Oh My God” with a speeding guitar and simple and repeated melodic idea which sits quite well as a second track. The energy is picked up and Momsen more than proves her vocal chops as she launches into a fierce examination of self. There’s an anger that pervades the track – a might – and yet the track discusses her insecurities, her doubts:
“I am a victim of my own self-worth!” she screams with the unashamed honesty that she finds her strength in.
This track – as simple as one from the early days of punk rock – doesn’t offer much in terms of melodic variation. But, that’s precisely the point. Because the song is about craving youth, a certain vitality and youthful ignorance, a simplicity she feels she’s lost. She wishes she was caught in the rye – delivering in a single track what it took J.D. Salinger an entire novel to do.
By this point, the main theme of the album has already been made apparent – a narrative about how the band now relates to their artistic paradigm. How do they preserve themselves – their ideology – while succumbing to success? Can they achieve fame and stay true to themselves? Whatever the answer, the third track on the record – and the album’s lead single – “Take Me Down” proves how much they want it. Juxtaposing the former track with a Bluesy calmness and choral backup vocals to boot, the track moves through the controlled process of telling the story of an artist making a deal with the Devil – the record’s extended metaphor for the modern music industry.
“Sign with the Devil!” – she sings. She’s accepting fame and the battles it’ll bring along with it.
“Prisoner” begins with the soundscape of a chain gang moving along a road – keeping the album ethereal, Southern feel in vogue. The song is instantly minimalistic – giving the listener hope that it’ll be led by the voice. A craving which is sated when Momsen dives in:
“I’m a prisoner! Won’t you please set me free!
… You can have my body, but you can’t have me!”
There’s a separation of mind and body here. Momsen declares that her ideology will persist long after her body goes to ruin. A confidence which is necessary because the next track “Wild City” drops a character right into the middle of a ruthless NYC which could defeat her if she let it:
“The city ain’t no place for a lonely girl.”, she warns.
But, by this point, I’m not worried because Momsen has proven that she can keep her shit together. The album has, so far, proven that they’re stronger than ever; harmonically gifted, vocally megalithic and punk beyond the shadow of a doubt.
The record’s first half then ends with “Back to the River” featuring Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule/The Allman Brothers Band fame – she gets back to basics with a comfortable blues that leads into the album’s title track and begins the second half of a record with a conscious divide.
“In the middle of a dream.
In the darkest night.
Woke up with a scream.
Thought I’d lost my sight.
Who you selling for tonight?”
This is the most delicate moment of the album. Instead of going large, and delivering blaring vocals which the lyrics could accommodate, she goes quiet for a moment and delivers some of the best moments and one of the best tracks of the album. She sings about her idols – “John was a walrus” – she silently and internally, innocently with that childlike quality she so craved in “Oh My God” assures the listener that she won’t let go of her ambitions – no matter how much it scares her – and I’m inclined to believe her.
“Bedroom Window” follows and it’s also a mellow affair. She achieves a kind of stasis. The speaker is alone in her sanctuary, looking out with a disillusioned gaze – there’s a contract between that space and the “chaos” outside. On this track, she’s retreated from the exposed space she’s been in thus far. It’s the first time she’s isolated and can look back calmly and thoughtfully rather than feeling buffeted by the forces of the outside world. She’s realized the reality of the world she fantasised about – it’s different, more frightening than she expected.
Then she heads back out again, she’s conceded to “Living in the Storm”. She looks at the people around her:
“When I look inside of ‘em, there’s nothing happening.”
But, she feels out of place:
“That’s not me.
I can think.”
She re-establishes the juxtaposition between the way she feels she needs to achieve her definition of success and the way the industry would have her do it.
[Side-bar: There’s something about this track that’s so reminiscent of Avenged Sevenfold at the top of their game. Though, it achieves something that “The Stage” particularly lacked – the successful use of multiplicitous soundscapes and mixes within the same track. What I feel A7X missed was the motivation for their changes – it felt arbitrary on their last offering. This album – in multiple places – proficiently demonstrates a link between theme and sound. The soundscape changes are motivated and logical – it carries demonstrable weight and contributes so much to the effective consumption of narrative material.]
Moving toward the end of the album, “Already Dead” comes to the fore and carries out its 4-minute run with an undeniable angst. It’s a dreary affair in the best way. Momsen delivers her most painful and emotional vocal moments on this track. She sounds tired – the artist who’s lived through the narrative of this record is burnt out and alone:
“I’m alone up here on this stage.”
Then comes the penultimate track – “The Devil’s Back”. The nostalgia hits again – she addresses herself in a melodic mirror – asking herself to recall a time before she lost her innocence. After having referred to herself as dead for the minutes preceding, here she refers to herself as alive once more. She compares her vital, former self to the one she faces now.
“I hate what I’ve become,
And now I cannot breathe….
When did I get so old?…
I guess the devil’s back. “
She dwells on melancholy self-examinations, and if this had been the end of the album (which it very well could have been) the album would have ended on a particularly nihilistic note.
But, MOTHERFUCKER. It’s not.
The album’s last track leaves you feeling like you may have turned shuffle on by accident and transported yourself to a mistaken dimension – because the genre changes in a second and the record instantly becomes a bastion of defiance – defying even the trend it itself has set.
Momsen and her band refuse to be pinned down. The Pretty Reckless refuses to be pigeonholed. Cuz, dude, they’re punk. They’re free agents. The mainstream, and even the expectations of Alt-Culture “aint got nothing on [them]”.
The final track “Mad Love” sounds more like Lady Gaga on “Wunderland” than anything else I listen to on the regular. It’s not strictly rock ‘n roll – it’s something else altogether – but, whatever it is, it makes me happier than I’ve almost ever been about a closing track. By closing off their narrative with this track, The Pretty Reckless proves to their listener that they’ll always be in control of themselves.
Cuz, who are they selling for?
They’re here to be artists – musicians – free of pretence and capitalist constraints. The Pretty Reckless are relentlessly Punk. And they’ll stay that way till they decide not to be. But, it’ll always be their decision – and screw anyone who doesn’t get it.
Listen to the album’s lead single “Take Me Down” and its opening track “The Walls Are Closing In/Hangman” below:
The Devil Wears Prada have always been a band who insist on doing things on their own terms. While many of their peers either followed scene conventions or changed to fit the flavour of the week, this band have always been a step ahead, and at this point, could be said to be running their own race.
2013’s 8:18 was a masterclass of melody & aggression, coupled with an organic but very well balanced production by Adam D & Matt Goldman. With Transit Blues, they’ve decided to work with Space EP producer Dan Korneff again, to great effect. While the result is a little more polished than its predecessor, it’s just as distinctive and sacrifices none of their organic & left-field touches. The band have long ago carved out their own niche, and their sound is instantly recognisable among the various elements that combine to create their densely layered and atmospheric chaos. One thing that could be said against the mix is the occasional moment where an element feels a little overpowered, such as the drums in the intro of “Worldwide” – a minor gripe, as it doesn’t diminish the overall effect of the song. The album is cohesive and interestingly paced from snappy start to quavering finish.
The album comes to life with roomy rim shots acting as the starting gun to the furious “Praise Poison”, losing no pace leading into the frantic single “Daughter”, and then serving up one of their catchiest ever choruses in “Worldwide”. This is their first release without original drummer Daniel Williams; the drum throne is occupied by Haste The Day’s Giuseppe Capolupo here, and he’s held no punches. In fact, each instrument & vocal gets its time to shine throughout Transit Blues with its many peaks and troughs. It’s a particular treat to listen to with headphones, being as diverse as it is.
Once you take a step back, Transit Blues is in many ways The Devil Wears Prada’s most mature work, and it certainly slows down their usual pace and aggression. This is by no means a bad thing – the thoughtful and foreboding “Home For Grave Pt. II” has the band showcasing unique and entrancing synths and guitar work, and “Lock & Load”, while not at all a slow song, hints at some more progressive explorations. It has to be said that “To The Key of Evergreen” is one of the most moving songs the band has ever written – the 5 minutes long track manages to encapsulate an emotional journey in its staggeringly erratic beginning stages, lulling into a calm sort of melancholic shellshock, before crackling guitars explode into a euphoric and tragic climax. It’s some of their most engaging work to date (watch the music video for the full effect; the visual accompaniment is executed perfectly).
It’s a good thing that bands like The Devil Wears Prada are around. They stand strong like colourful beacons in a musical landscape that can sometimes become a little predictable. Their evolution has been an exciting one; while bands like Bring Me The Horizon have evolved massively, to great success, The Devil Wears Prada have done so while maintaining their signature aggression and core sound, but just refining and maturing in the best possible way. Don’t let Transit Blues pass you by.
Waterparks blew into the alternative scene this year with their breakthrough EP Cluster. The EP found them with a fixed slot on this year’s Warped Tour and they managed to wade their way to the front of the ranks of nondescript pop-rock/pop-punk hybrids that usually dominate Warped Tour. Such territory always comes with the risk of being consumed by the genre and falling prey to embracing the creative stagnation of the pop punk genre and the glory of the Warped Tour spotlight. However, that is not a spotlight that Waterparks seem to want to shine on them perpetually. Their debut album Double Dare is a bold statement of “we are more than just another pop-punk band”.
ISO has taken another great and exciting step in their musical career. ISO’s latest album, Polydimension, is one of South Africa’s most exciting releases for Alternative rock in the past year or so. ISO’s sixth studio album marks the band’s decade-long run in the local music scene and international success.
It’s the kind of album that would fit a contemplative road trip, or a night time drive under neon lights, racing down the highway for the hell of it. This album’s beautiful and intricate atmospheres and memorable songs are the masterful work of Alan Parker’s nimble fingers at the keyboard, the Nick McCreadie’s complex and dynamic drumming , Franco Schoeman’s heavy and intricate bass playing and Broekensha’s clean vocals and dynamic guitar playing, showcase the band’s unique musical intelligence and accessible sound. Are there even any other local bands to which you could headbang and slow dance to in the span of a single song?
One of this album’s most prominent features is the dynamics in its sound. “Walk Through the City” jumps from intricate little riffs of keyboard and guitar to a chorus line reminiscent of the Stone Temple Pilots’Purple album, to heavy industrial guitar riffs and heavy keyboard effects. The progressive nature of this band’s work never gets old and engages their audience throughout entire songs. Their heavier moments are countered by catchy clean vocal melody and light atmospheric tones. Their take on the “Loud Quiet Loud” techniques of alternative and progressive bands of yesteryear takes an intelligent twist in these songs. The band, time and time again, blends atmosphere and heavy riff so successfully and surprisingly, that the album has to be listened to over and over again. The listener will find something new every time.
“The Field” opens with a guitar riff that rivals heavier bands. The tension of the song, both found in the lyrics and this opening riff, are captivating. Intricate and complex drumming interludes, accompanied by vocals and the bass, provide spaces for thinking and feeling that I have never encountered in any other band.
Many of the songs on this album offer a different experience due to the band’s dynamic style. ‘No Other Way’ features complexly picked guitar, with a slightly darker and romantic sound, not afraid to dabble in foreign scales and momentary atonality. “From The Skyline” provides a deeply intimate experience. The keyboardist, with a more acoustic piano take for this song, provides the verses with an atmosphere and longing that the vocalist could not do on his own. “Rabbit Hole” acts as one of the album’s singles, with a slightly progressive indie sound to it and catchy vocals. “State of Blue” provides an odd mixture of Indie tone with funk riffs interjecting in between. “Touch of Innocence” has strange Middle Eastern and video game synth sounds.
With its incredibly diverse, intelligent and atmospheric sound, Polydimensionis one of the best albums of 2016, and a hallmark album for the band’s decade long career. Polydimension is a significant contribution to SA’s music scene by ISO- one of South Africa’s most important alternative rock bands.
Richard Stirton, winner of The Voice: South Africa in 2016, coached by Kahn Morbee lead singer of The Parlotones, has released his debut album Middle Ground. The talented Cape Town based guitarist and singer showcases his excellent vocal talent accompanied by piano, synthesizer effects, indie drumming and subtle vocal manipulation to create an album themed on love, dance and breakup songs. The album also contains covers of “Skinny Love” and “Sound of Silence”. The album as a whole is a mellow combination of indie, ballads and pop influences that you may find on your local radio stations and youth playlists, including Matt Corby and Bon Iver. Universal Music and Stirton have launched an album that is highly appropriate for easy listening on the radio.
The thematic of love begin with the very first song, “Break the Silence” introducing us to a gentler but warmer side to Stirton’s voice, an honest and warm voice that sits in his chest. “What Tears Me the Most” starts out like any love song on the radio, but treats its audience to a pleasant surprise of Stirton’s natural rasp towards the end of the song. The album’s structure, although different in style and melody between various songs, is well placed to showcase the musician’s skills as a musician and a vocalist. “Catching Tears”, for example, is the most interesting arrangement of bass and vocal sound bites. It is accompanied by intricate light and reverberated guitar picking, interesting moments of silence and drum rhythms that shift gradually throughout the song. His taste for atmosphere is delicious, and hopefully, he will be brave enough to explore this trait in future albums.
Stirton’s cover Bon Iver of “Skinny Love”, which has received high praise on his time on The Voice, shows off most of his vocal range and tone from a light and airy tone, to a grounded and raspy cry that gives the listener tingles. His connection to the song is powerful and a highlight of this album. Stirton breaks the usual formula of cover songs these days whereby slower tempo + solo acoustic guitar and singer = a song that sounds like it has more emotion than the original’ through a free and expressive vocal style that is honest and raw.
His cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence”, however, is not as unique as “Skinny Love”. It is not too dissimilar to Disturbed’s version of the song, both instrumentally and structurally. It sounds almost identical, just without David Draiman or a large orchestra. Although not a bad cover, it’s not quite as memorable as his other songs on the album.
“Call It Luck” is a track that best reveals Stirton’s Matt Corby and Bon Iver indie influences, featuring reverberated guitar riffs and the popular beats of indie-pop and the Millennial ‘Whoops’ and ‘OH’s’. His style, although interesting and enjoyable to listen to, can develop away from these in his future albums. Stirton’s Middle Ground will meet commercial success. Although he has taken a safe approach to his first album with commercially appealing music and trends, his tasteful instrumentality and –above all else- outstanding vocal technique makes Stirton an exciting addition into our local music scene.
We live in a country that is teeming with corruption, inequality and sheer injustice, yet few artists or bands ever really write songs that comment on those issues. Granted, the vast majority of South African artists do adhere to pop formats when it comes to their lyrical themes and deliver songs that account for personal stories – which is perfectly normal and understandable. However, it is painstakingly obvious that there is a large gap in the market for artists that openly criticise the state of South African affairs. This is probably due to the fact that we have a rather small hardcore and punk scene – genres of music that are usually responsible for scathing social commentary.
However, the hardcore scene of South Africa is slowly on the rise again. New artists like FREExMONEY are pushing out fantastic material while promoters like NoiseFix are bringing in niche international hardcore- derivative bands to tour all over South Africa. There is one band in particular that is standing at the forefront of the hardcore movement in South Africa and that is Peasant – a band that has been steadily grafting their way up in the local industry since opening for Comeback Kid when they performed in South Africa.
They just dropped their third EP No Love with a new line-up and are setting the bar high for local hardcore with this EP. The EP adheres to traditional hardcore stereotypes with a listening time that clocks in at 14 minutes. The EP is longer than any of their previous releases which I think is a definite improvement as gives them much more room to show off their new found sound. Their previous sound was centred on being aggressive, blunt and incredibly fast-paced. No Love, on the other hand, is a lot slower in tempo, thanks to groove-laden bass riffs, but its fury is just as strong.
“Ties” opens the EP with a chugging melody and slow, lingering riffs that bristle with pent-up aggression. The song explodes into a barrage of high-tempo drumming, abrasive guitar riffs and Alain Marthezé delivering vocals laden with coarse gruffness. The kind that comes naturally for hardcore vocalists. Marthezé shows a versatile vocal style on No Love and proves that he knows how to do more than just deliver nasal pop-punk vocals for Veladraco – the other band he currently fronts. This gruff vocal style dominates the EP and ensures that Peasant still maintains their aggressive edge after shifting to the groovier and more melodic side of hardcore.
No Love is more than just a gruff hardcore album stacked full of angry guitar riffs and a lot of shouting. The EP is undercut by strong lyrical themes that lean towards criticising the state of affairs in South Africa. One of the most powerful songs is the title song which speaks towards people’s approach to poverty and more specifically – the view that many financially privileged people hold of those less fortunate than them. If Peasant continues down this path of fusing social conscious lyrics with aggressive hardcore riffs then I think the hardcore scene is definitely going to revive itself.
Hip-hop is currently blowing up all over the world. Spotify ranks it as the most listened to genre on the streaming service. For whatever inexplicable reason, the youth are flocking to hip-hop music but this ascension to mainstream success is causing much of modern hip-hop to become diluted and superficial. Only artists with entrenched fan bases are giving the platform to write meaningful lyrics, but even that is rare when songs like “Panda” receive more hits than Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”. This superficial focus on hip-hop music is especially true across South Africa’s hip-hop scene where many of the rappers at the top of the scene deliver songs with about as much substance as a traditional pop song.
However, like all major genres – there is always an underground. The underground is usually where all the great artists lurk but have yet to be discovered. These are the artists whose music is drenched in substance as they will invest their heart and soul into their music even if it yields absolutely no reward. It’s the kind of music made by people that are passionate about what they do but have yet to lose the ambition that maybe, just maybe, they will one day make it. That is the world that hip-hop duo Gavin and Krehan inhabit with their debut EP A New Dope.
The first thing strikes me about their EP is the sheer quality of the production work. You rarely expect great production quality from DIY artists. Their creations are usually haphazard and murky affairs where much of their talent is lost to fuzzy mixing. This is not the case with Gavin and Krehan which is remarkable as the entire EP was created with a USB microphone, Audacity and FL Studios – all things mocked in the music world for being subpar programmes. Despite this, Krehan Pillay’s production work is a flawless mass of synths. The basic beat draws heavily on traditional hip-hop beats in terms of progression and rhythm.
However, the production work is much more complex than that as there are layers of urban grittiness that is attached to the production fuelling A New Dope. This results in a dark and brooding sound that seems partially influenced by emo-tinged hardcore punk and drives the anxiety-ridden lyrics that dominate the EP. Snarling bass lines lash out at the listener throughout each song while bouncy synths draw the listener in at the same time to experience the audio bliss that is the EP. One of the stand-out songs in terms of production is that of “Evolve” which begins with a synthetic orchestra that then gives way to a pounding techno beat accompanied by futuristic synth tones that attach themselves to the voice sample that speaks about aliens.
The core of hip-hop is lyrics. It would be futile to have great production work if the lyrics were subpar, but luckily the lyrics on A New Dope are just as great as its production work. Gavin David Pierce, the rapper in this duo, spits rhymes that are drenched in emotion and substance. His lyrics do not stem from any kind of lofty or pretentious place, but rather from his own personal space as he delivers songs that cycle through a variety of themes such as ambition, anxiety, discrimination, drug addiction, love and paranoia. At the heart of the entire EP is a heart-pounding sense of anxiety and fear. It gives the lyrics a chaotic nature as themes collide with each other on the same songs, yet each song still flows in an amazing way to create layers of emotional themes indicating how a variety of emotions shape the human experience. “Dragon Depression” is a slow and gentle song that focus on how depression and relationships can often intersect in a multitude of ways – usually for the worst. Tied up into the song is also a strong desire to succeed with rap music which is a consistent theme throughout each song.
There is a strong sense of ambition in Gavin and Krehan’s music, and with such a strong debut release – there is no doubt that they will go far and I really hope they do. If I could make any kind of comparison – I would say that, musically, Gavin and Krehan are at the same place PHFAT was at when they released Happiness Machines.
It was the height of the summer of 2010 – the year in which I was about to embark on an awkward and misshapen venture into the murky world of South African high school social circles. Social circles that are largely similar to those that dominate clichéd American high school films, but we don’t get convenient clothing guides to determine with whom to be friends. Puberty hit early for me but only bought about a perpetual bout of acne that turned my face into a scale model of the effect of tectonic uplift. South Africa was awash with football fever as we had scored the economically-crippling privilege of hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup and even the least sports-crazy people became experts in rules surrounding what was described as a “gentleman’s game for hooligans”.
I, on the other hand, was losing myself in the nihilistic angst and narcissistic vitriol of Sum 41. While everyone was discussing the intricacies of offside, I had stumbled across a band that would later come to define much of my high school career. I actually came upon Sum 41 by sheer accident while searching for Billy Talent on Limewire which shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with Limewire as its search engine was truly terrible. It landed me straight in the middle of Chuck and exposed me to Deryck “Bizzy D” Whibley’s fractured mind as he leapt from sardonic political commentary backed by explosive guitar riffs to angst-ridden tongue-lashings of his, at the time, still-in-progress divorce from Avril Lavinge. It was an album that spoke to me on so many levels. It was at a time in which I was becoming moderately political aware and was starting to notice the injustices and issues in the worlds, and Sum 41 managed to bring those to the forefront of my mind with politically conscious songs like “We’re All To Blame” and “88”. On the other hand, the start of high school also featured a brief venture into the infatuated world of romantic relationships. A venture that was doomed to fail from the start and one that found its solace in the likes of “Pieces” and “Slipping Away”.
It is now six years down the line and over a decade since the band released Chuck. The world hasn’t improved, we are currently in one of the worst years ever, high school is long gone, my romantic forays have developed into a healthy relationship of close to a year and a half, my love for Sum 41 hasn’t diminished even the slightest, and the band has just released 13 Voices – their first album in five years. The announcement of the release of 13 Voices via Hopeless Records sent a jolt of excitement down my spine for three reasons. Firstly, Hopeless Records is known for never pigeon-holing their artists. Secondly, the release of 13 Voices would see Dave Baksh returning to the band. Thirdly, it meant that a genre-defining band would be returning to the forefront of a genre that has been milling around the same stagnant pond for several years.
Such anticipation can often only lead to disappointment as has been the case for many album releases this year, but each single released off 13 Voices served to stoke the fires of excitement as the album seemed as the band copied their single release pattern from Chuck. Some part of me immediately hoped that 13 Voices would be Chuck 2.0 simply due to this pattern of following up a fast-paced song with a slower, more emotional song. It was a glorious hope as Chuck was without a doubt Sum 41’s best album from a purely musical and lyrical point of view and it would be a difficult task to live up to that reputation. Nothing released after Chuck could ever come close to ferocity and emotional depth of the album, so it was with much hesitation that I downloaded my copy of 13 Voices and began playing the first song.
I immediately felt like I was back in high school as a drawn-out intro lead me into the opening song. It was a flashback to the delicate guitar work that opened Chuck, but instead of guitar chords “A Murder of Crows (You’re All Dead To Me” features ominous violin before launching into fist-pumping politically conscious melodic punk rock as Whibley snarls about being sick of hypocrites. The album is built in a very similar fashion to Chuck in the sense that Sum 41 relentlessly delivers melodic punk anthem with reckless abandon and only occasionally pause to deliver emotionally charged ballads.
However, 13 Voices is anything but a mere Chuck rehash. Chuck was riddled with insecurity, nihilism, narcissism and hoity-toity political consciousness. 13 Voices is a strong, confident album that does not need to rely on slick jibes at politician, collective disparity and highbrow metaphorical lyrics to drive home its points about politics and darker themes connected to mental health and addiction. 13 Voices uses simple and blunt lyrics backed by snarling guitar riffs and impossible-to-predict percussion to rip apart the flimsy state of the music industry (“God Save Us All)”, blast society’s dependence on technology (“Fake My Own Death”), and comment on the role of media in corrupting the youth (“There Will Be Blood”). The darker themes are tackled through slower and gentler ballads that push home themes of overcoming addiction and becoming a stronger person (“War” and “Breaking The Chain”).
Chuck is the album for 13-year-old me. It was erratic and insecure in where it stood. It’s angst and vitriol was its dominant features that overshadowed some of the less noticeable and more mature qualities like its delicate handling of relationships and the painful struggles of addiction. 13 Voices, on the other hand, is the album for 20-year-old me – a more mature person but one still capable of immaturity and in need of music that can be serious in its thematic concerns while backing those concerns with a ferocious musical accompaniment.
It feels just like yesterday that Young Guns released their third studio album Ones and Zeroes, or rather just last year as the band put out the album in early June of last year. Ones and Zeroes was an album influenced by mainstream alternative rock trends as gritty guitar riffs were traded in for synth-laden guitar melodies and rousing choruses. It allowed the band to demonstrate a different side of their music – one rooted in anthemic crowd-pleasers as opposed to the traditional brooding and gritty alternative rock songs that dominated their first two albums – especially their sophomore album Bones.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds latest album Skeleton Tree is just as hauntingly poignant and evocative as one would expect from someone who suffered such a tragic loss last year. The album is the band’s sixteenth release, and despite singing about similar themes for the last couple of decades, this album is their most numb, subdued and hollowed-out feature to date. Dealing with the fragility of life and intense grief, Cave is at his most vulnerable and visceral, as the Bad Seeds take a backseat to his vocals.
Skeleton Tree comes a year and a bit after Nick Cave’s teenage son Arthur tragically fell to his death. Despite the fact that the album was already almost complete prior to the heart-breaking accident, several of the songs were rewritten as Cave sought to express his bereavement through song. The idea of death and loss are wholly present in Skeleton Tree, as Cave’s resigned tone croons about mortality and tragedy. As expected by fans and critics aware of what befell Cave last year, the album features allegorical references to Arthur’s death, without being explicit about it. The opening line of the first song “Jesus Alone”, starts off with “You fell from the sky, crash-landed in a field near the river Adur”, a haunting opening that is matched by the synthesiser setting the dark mood. The whole album is cloaked in an ethereal sound, as Cave stumbles around trying to make sense of it all. “Rings of Saturn” sounds like a tribute to a ‘80s song, that gets better with every listen. “Girl in Amber” emphasises the idea of disorientation, fragility and the cycle of loss as Cave balefully addresses what has so unimaginably struck him.
The second half of the album is where the band really demonstrates their ability to carefully balance sadness with melody. Each song is infected by the presence of death, as Cave dwells on loss with lines such as “nothing really matters when the one you love is gone” in the song “I Need You”, emphasising Cave’s exhaustion and how he has been affected. The song is an incredible tribute to loss, and serves as a comfort for anyone dealing with pain or hardship. “Distant Sky” is more hopeful than its predecessor, as Cave and Danish soprano Else Torp cautiously sing about watching the sun rise again, and hint at the idea of redemption, a much-needed follow on from the sombre “I Need You”. The final track, “Skeleton Tree” echoes the themes of the opening track, as Cave calls out to God to no avail, finally finding some peace in the idea that “it’s all right now”.
The band’s previous albums have always been preoccupied with the notion of mortality, religion and the meaning of life, yet Skeleton Tree features raw emotion and authority on a subject no parent should ever experience. Skeleton Tree avoids becoming a ballad of sadness, choosing instead to focus on the consequences of loss, rather than the cause. The album is eerie, emotional and ominous, achieved through the use of synthesisers and loops that become the background to Cave’s resigned and strung-out tone. The album is stripped bare and minimalistic, focusing on the most important aspects, whilst allowing Cave to sing as he sings best.