SINGLE REVIEW: The Vanilla – Canopies

The Vanilla have charted their way through the South African music scene over the past two years with indie rock carefully crafted for mass consumption. Their sound has always retained just enough guitar edge for them to steer clear of the indie pop category, but their latest single “Canopies” sees them fully embracing the pop-rock side of their music.

The opening guitar chords drip with pop-rock sensibility as the band delivers a neat package of jangling four-chord riffs, effervescent melodies and soothing vocal harmonies. It is a formula that guarantees most South African bands with the right amount of drive success in the South African music industry. It is the kind of formula that produces songs that are lapped up by the commercial listener in South Africa, and The Vanilla delivers this formula in an effortlessly and remarkably brilliant way. I cannot deny that the band is talented and that the small amount of success they have already experienced is not without merit.

However, “Canopies” is just another pop-rock song with a faux indie-rock meets pop exterior. The Vanilla isn’t doing anything new or creative, and are merely just contributing to the ever-stagnating pool of indie artists that struggle to gain relevance in a music industry that is gradually moving away from consuming artists that all sound the same or follow the same formula. The problem is that The Vanilla is very likely to not experience much success with this carefully crafted commercial sound as they are entering a playing field that is filled with bands that sound exactly like them, and many of those bands have had the luxury of being around for much longer than The Vanilla. My advice to The Vanilla is to maybe get into the studio and try something new – invent a sound that sticks to their indie rock roots but also reaches out of their comfort zone and brings something new and exciting to the listener.

REVIEW: Pyjama Planet – Max Chops

Photo by Matt Keeson Photography

Normally when I listen to a band for the first time it’s at a live show or someone will play me the music and if it’s any good I’ll then go source it myself. Last week, you can then imagine, was a totally different experience for me. Not only was I introduced to this new album at a press listening party – but the dress code was pyjamas.

Continue reading REVIEW: Pyjama Planet – Max Chops

LIVE REVIEW: KONGOS in London, England

 

Touring to promote their new “radio-ready” album Egomaniac, released in June this year, KONGOS played three dates in the UK fresh off the European leg of the tour. I managed to cough for tickets in London at the o2 Academy, and, pleasingly, so did loads of other people. I felt particularly patriotic supporting an SA band in London, and the other South Africans in the crowd were equally enthusiastic about our shared origins. Let me say up front that this was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to, of any band in any country. They might bill themselves as a ‘South African-born American band’ but they betray their roots with afro-indie guitar licks and poignant lyrical nods to home.

Standing at the bar, languages drifted around me – it seemed that the KONGOS’ European success had crossed the Channel. French, Spanish and Portuguese fans had obviously given their friends in London a heads up. Waiting for the opener I sold a vital organ for two beers and settled in for some top notch people watching. It had been empty when I arrived but as the room filled my fears were allayed.

Tempesst, the openers (so called because “a band in San Francisco called Tempest, with one s, got peevish with us” the guitarist later told me) played a combination of classic rock-style originals and alternative soundscapes. I’m not sure if it was the effect of my obscenely expensive beer but I have seldom been so enamoured of an opener and with time, a tighter set and a hit single they should do alright.

While Tempesst played, the venue filled up and my concern that I’d be a lone patriot at the gig was finally banished. The crowd was thick and buzzing by the time KONGOS came on, launching into “I Want It Free“. Their set was perfectly sequenced, interspersing old favourites like “I Want to Know” with newer tracks off Egomaniac, though most the crowd knew both the new and old tracks. At first, I hung back in the club, watching the crowd’s reactions but was eventually swept into the elation of the fans as they sang along to “I Don’t Mind“. It tells the story of a night much like the one I was having: messy and happy, the kind of night that you wish every night out was like. Prior to launching into “The World Would Run Better“, KONGOS bassist and pretty boy Dylan Kongos, commented, “This song is in light of the results of US elections today.” The crowd erupted in laughter and sang every word, indicating the general relief the English are currently experiencing at now that America has displaced them in the number one spot of Most Monumental National Fuck Up of 2016. It was a beautiful moment of irony and resistance in the most unpredictable context. When I’m old and people ask me where I was when I heard that Trump had won the 2016 USA election, this is the story I’ll tell.

In a nod to Britain’s contributions to world music, the set included the very best version of The Beatles‘ “Get Back” that has ever been heard by human ears. KONGOS shifted between styles seamlessly, delighting the audience who moved through the genres with them, grooving through the reggae, dance and rock styles with the lack of cool that only white people dancing can achieve. Despite the glaring rhythmic handicap, the audience did what I believe is idiomatically referred to as ‘dancing one’s face off’. A testament to the strength of Egomaniac as an album is the number of songs on it that were included in the set-list: those already mentioned as well as “Birds Do It“, “Where I Belong” and my favourite track off the album “Take It From Me“. Unsurprisingly their biggest hit “Come With Me Now” also went down like shots at the end of a long week. The woman in front of me must have had the most epic bangover the next day. It was the kind of gig that hack music journalists like myself refer to as ‘electric’.

Now, I have never cried in a club (except for the handful of times when I was very drunk in my undergrad), but when KONGOS played “It’s A Good Life” in tribute to the South Africans in the club, I’ll admit my eyes welled up. When, in the encore, they played “Escape“, a romantic, slightly sentimental tribute to Cape Town, a few tears made for freedom. KONGOS married the fun and dance of the rest of the gig with the emotional intensity of Escape, playing to the crowd and shifting gears with the ease of a decades-old band, belying their age.

 

Afterwards, I pushed out into the frigid cold of London in November and made my way down to the Tube, sweaty, teary and happy in that way that makes you ignore how much your feet hurt. KONGOS have clearly hit their stride on this tour, gaining fans with their irreverent audience interaction, tight sets and of course the gorgeous tone of their uniquely powerful alt-rock, afro-indie, I-didn’t-even-know-I-like-accordion sound. This was just their second gig in London this year and despite getting almost no radio air play in the UK, loads of people in the crowd sang along. This bodes so well for the future and I look forward to when I’ll have to queue for hours to get tickets to see them in Wembley.

 

In the next month you can find them in the Ukraine, Russia, Spain and Germany before they head to the States for a run of gigs across the southern states ending on 8 December.

ALBUM REVIEW: The Pretty Reckless – Who You Selling For

“There’s no light.

Mama, I can’t see at all at all.

There’s no one here to break this fall.

Mama, there’s no one at all.”

From its first moments, its first lyrics, the record has you in its grasp. Taylor Momsen 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.

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The first track The Walls are Closing In/Hangmancalls 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.

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“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 Windowfollows 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.

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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?

No one.

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.

8.5/10

Listen to the album’s lead single “Take Me Down” and its opening track “The Walls Are Closing In/Hangman” below:

 

 

 

REVIEW: Endless Daze 2016

Endless Daze by Ashley Brown shot with Canon A1 on 35mm film’

After a longstanding love affair with everything Psych Night, Endless Daze was finally announced. I became more excited with every phase of line-up announcements, counting down the days while listening to nothing else but my favourites that would be playing that weekend. I had been prepping for weeks.

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The Dandies Bring Lost Children To Grahamstown

Written by Kyle Leaver. Photography by Joshua Stein.

Kaihl (pronounced ‘Kyle’) Thomas Meades laid his guitar on the stage and ripped the bisected lower E-string from the machine head. As he fed a fresh wire through the guitar and began the tuning process, Tinus Lottering booted out a drum solo. Meades drilled a sliding chug riff on the E-string to finish his tune-up. “These guys outdo themselves too much,” said JC Bonnici, manager of Champs Action Bar where the action happened in Grahamstown on Friday, 11 November.

Meades and Lottering are The Dandies; a two-piece rock group from Potchefstroom. They have spent the past two years touring the South Africa, and have just released their new album, Lost Children.

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The Dandies’ one-night stand in Grahamstown was the second gig on a road tour to publicise Lost Children along the east coast. They will stop off in Knysna, Plett, East London and many other towns and cities before their final show at Smoking Dragon Festivals’ New Year’s Eve event in the Drakensberg.

The album’s first single, “Lucky Monkey”, was released on 29 August. “We’re releasing each song as a single. Our second single was released on the 2nd of September,” said Meades. The album was recorded at AntiMotion Studios in Johannesburg. According to Lottering, producer Dave Grevlar works very well with Meades in forming and refining song ideas.

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“The album is a good reflection of who we are. We draw from a lot of people, we take an element and we sort of build on it,” said Meades. The Dandies describe their genre as “party rock, hard rock, and body rock with edge”.

Meades and Lottering have a standard songwriting process. “Most songs come from riffs,” said Meades. “A lot of the lyrics are Christian; messages of Love. They come from everyday experiences.”

“Being onstage, there’s no substitute for growth,” said Lottering. “The Oppi set [crowd] was full. There aren’t words to explain the joy,” he remarks on their gig at Oppikoppi this year. Meades and Lottering name Railways, Grahamstown, Jeffrey’s Bay, Wild Kei festival and Smoking Dragon 2015 as some of the favourite locations they have played. In total, they have manned the stage over 230 times in the past 24 months, according to Lottering. “The mentality these guys have towards music is up there,” said Bonnici, gesturing in the air.

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The Dandies are formerly known as The Jack Rolling Dandy’s. “People can’t remember the name. We don’t want people to miss out just because of a name they can’t remember,” said Meades.

As the Jack Rolling Dandy’s, The Dandies shared the video for their most popular song to date, “The Jack Rolling Dandy”, on YouTube on 18 March, 2013. The video was filmed and produced by Stefan Louw of KoringKriek Fotografie. “We do a lot of stuff with them. They’re really nice guys and really professional,” said Meades of Louw and his team.

The Dandies are looking forward to releasing new music videos soon. “There’s a live video coming out for a cover of the Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy”, and then we’re thinking of putting out a new video in January,” said Meades. The Dandies roped in production company Dizzy Khaki to produce the “Lonely Boy” cover video.

Lost Children is available on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play and all major accredited download services.

ALBUM REVIEW: The Devil Wears Prada – Transit Blues

Written by Nicolas González

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.

Rating: 8.5/10

ALBUM REVIEW: Waterparks – Double Dare

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”.

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ALBUM REVIEW: ISO – Polydimension

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.

8/10

ALBUM REVIEW: Richard Stirton – Middle Groud

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.

Introducing: Janice

Photo courtesy of  Anika Molnár

Today sees the official release of a brand new single by Cape Town-based singer/songwriter Janice. The single is entitled “Now or Never” and also features the rapper Ason, and comes after the release of her previous hit single, “Liar, Liar”. We decided to catch up with the singer in a short introductory interview.

Let’s start with your history, what initially propelled you to start singing?

I’m a singer / songwriter from Cape Town. I grew up in a very musical family and practically sang my whole life. Growing up I used to listen to international artists like Mariah and Whitney on radio and I learnt how to sing by mimicking them on the radio. Somehow that feeling ignited this dream. Also, the church played a huge role in me wanting to take my career further. And once family and friends found out I could sing . They basically forced me to do something with my voice.

 As I understand, you started singing in church and in choirs – this kind of singing is vastly different to being a pop singer? Has your musical history played a major role in influencing how you approach your more pop-inclined music?

 It definitely does, I find that there’s a lot of genres that have some type of Gospel sound. Which is amazing! Because there is so much emotion and fullness in it that immediately captures one’s soul. And because of my background, which I’m so grateful for. That sound is deeply embedded in my music.

So, therefore, I’m happy that pop music can be anything made popular /commercial. It gave me the opportunity to combine all of my favourites elements in music like, soulful/RnB vocals, catchy lyrics , strong melodies and great production into one sound which is Janice.

You stopped singing for a while after not making it to the final rounds of singing contest – how did that make you feel and why did it make you stop singing?

 Hearing No for the first time in my career at 17years old was hard. Not even my mom was able to talk me out of this one.

Looking backing now, I was way to hard on myself. But I just couldn’t get over the rejection. And I don’t think I was prepared to take any more knocks like that. So I walked away from my dream …

Keep in mind that It was also the first big contest I’d ever done so It felt like if I didn’t make it through, then I wasn’t good enough for the industry and I left the contest believing exactly that. So I stayed away from music.

 What influence did Jimmy Nevis have in getting you back into the music industry, and ultimately release your own music?

 Jimmy and I are childhood friends, and when he started in 2012 he asked me to be a part of his band as a backing vocalist probably because we literally have been singing together our whole lives lol .

I must be honest it took much convincing but coming back was the best thing for me . Seeing him live out his dream reignited my love for music. And as years went by I started visualising that dream again. My own music started very much in the spur of the moment.

We were having coffee one night and he explained that he wrote a song for me. We went into the studio that same night… and now I’m answering interview questions for the release of my third radio single .

 Let’s talk about your new single “Now or Never” – what does this song mean to you and what were some of your influences when approaching the song?

 It might have been a new love interest.

I didn’t really have an influence, I heard the track went in the vocal booth started sing melodies and runs and then wrote it on what could be a real life story .

 The song is about an ultimatum or warning given to someone that’s a bit unsure about how they feel about you? You basically telling them that if you don’t make a move and seal the deal soon, you might just loose out on the opportunity forever.

Finally, what are the plans for the next year?

Album, tour, and award show nominations.

Buy the song here.

EP REVIEW: Peasant – No Love

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.

Stream the EP on Soundcloud and buy it on iTunes.

EP REVIEW: Gavin and Krehan – The New Dope

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.

Listen to the EP below.

8/10

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.

SINGLE REVIEW: Crimson House Ft Ann Jangle – Howling at Your Door

“Howling at your Door” the new song/video release captures the energy of Crimson House and the powerful voice of Ann Jangle. The song introduces a fresh, saucy, and raspy lead singer accompanied by a gentle but sultry backup singer. The song is of Crimson House’s typical blend of blues, pop and a bit of Trash Cabaret style. The main track is on par with the quality to be expected from Crimson House, but a slightly awkward guitar solo does the track a huge disservice.

The guitarist seems to be at a loss for any original melody, which is strange considering any of his solos performed live. Thankfully the song is rescued immediately afterwards by the band’s most captivating performers: the alto and baritone saxophone duo. Ann Jangle throws in a dirty kiss and some impressive vocals here and there to break the monotony of the song. Perhaps live with a couple of adjustments to the song, “Howling at your Door” could be a great jam at a trash cabaret or your next local blues gig.
Watch the video below: