Sunday, April 5, 2009

Mystery EP - BLK JKS

Mystery EP

Secretly Canadian Records.

SCQ Rating: 65%

Despite forming nearly a decade ago and becoming underground favourites in their home country, this Johannesburg via Soweto quartet make their international debut with this four-song release. Hot on the heals of a predominantly indie-rock press that has celebrated them on the cover of Fader magazine, Mystery EP deserves its early followers thanks to ‘Lakeside’ – a single that embraces American guitar rock with their own blend of afro-rhythms and dubby bass. It’s one hell of a first-listen and worthy of grabbing attention from a scene that rarely takes note of South African talents. And although ‘Lakeside’ is the most accomplished song to strike at the heart of Western audiences, the rest of the EP stands to serve the band better, delivering a raw mix of reggae-touched rock that makes their single sound totally compromised.

A song like ‘Mystery’, despite embodying a sound more authentic to their roots, will likely detract those indie-rock masses; a blend of loose jamming and frantic tempo shifts that take the nuanced power of ‘Lakeside’ and detonates it. At certain points, the title track sounds as if singer Mpumi has started singing to an entirely new song while the band continues unaware. A similar disturbance occurs in ‘Summertime’, a dub-inspired slow-jam that transforms into sludgy layers of African vocals and electric guitar collisions. It’s something listeners (like myself) who are positively unaware of African music will need time to wrap their heads around; that such chaotic performances can be as exciting as they are abrasive. The production matches BLK JKS (yep, pronounced Black Jacks) with an untouched roughness that suggests these songs were likely recorded live off the floor with minimal studio overdubs.

I wouldn’t doubt it, as you can almost feel the humidity and sweat between these murky performances subside on ‘It’s In Every Thing You’ll See’. Although it carries the same atmosphere we felt from the get-go (which bridges the disc and is commendable considering the EP’s variety), this finale steadies the band’s impulsive side, opting to remain low-key and linear. It’s a rewarding close that wraps up BLK JKS’ love of genre-hopping and eardrum-splitting, yet whether this mere introduction to their talents foreshadows full-length greatness is unclear. Until then, Mystery EP is a litmus test for the blogosphere; completely leftfield with influences we’re largely ignorant of. I humbly admit it’s a bit of a challenge, which is welcome for a scene of such close-knit comparisons. Or, like some lazy journalists, you could simply compare them to TV On the Radio. This may not be a debut of the year but BLK JKS are certainly worth a closer listen than that.

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