/ 6 July 2009

Splintering jewel

In 2005 Cape Town’s sonic explorer and guitarist extraordinaire Righard Kapp joined the ranks of the Mother City’s premier improvisational outfit, The Buckfever Underground.

Although Buckfever’s live shows took on a whole new edge with Kapp’s sublime guitar histrionics, the move also resulted in this critic’s favourite South African album of 2007, titled Saves.

Since then Buckfever have retreated into a state of hibernation, with a few reported sightings in some Cape watering holes and at a Free State wedding all that we have to go on.

Kapp, it seems, bunkered down in a few Cape Town studios with producer-engineer Dirk Hugo to record his magnificent new solo album, Strung Like a Compound Eye (Jaunted Haunted Press).

Kapp’s previous albums on the now defunct One Minute Trolley Dash label focused on blistering assaults of feedback squall and drone, ambient guitar loops and desolate post-industrial soundscapes. But his new album turns its attention to the acoustic guitar for the most part, offering a more intimate and delicate collection of songs.

Don’t get me wrong, Kapp has not gone all hippy singer-songwriter on us, but he has taken his production trickery and applied it to some wonderful instrumental guitar pieces and created quite beautiful songs.

The acoustic and electric guitars effortlessly swim in each others’ slipstreams on the title track, propelled along by some fantastic drumming from Ross Campbell, formerly of Urban Creep, now a member of Benguela. Kapp has reached a new level of maturity and songwriting with this album. Another highlight is the album’s centrepiece, titled The Wedding Song, which features some magnificent mournful horn work by Lee Thompson (trumpet) and Christopher Engel (saxophone) and some beautiful touches by Mary Faragher on glockenspiel.

Numerous guest vocalists appear on the album, including Buckfever frontman Toast Coetzer, former Koos frontman Marcel van Heerden and singer-songwriter Ramon Galvan.

The album is brought to a close with the Belle & Sebastianesque duet, Take Me under Your Wing for the Entire Holiday, featuring Ella Joyce Buckley on vocals and some great viola work from Jeanette Classen.

Strung Like a Compound Eye is without a doubt the greatest South African album released this year and there is so much daylight between it and the chasing pack it should still be there come the end of the year.

As for The Buckfever Underground, Kapp says he hasn’t officially quit the band and he is open to playing gigs with them again.

“It’s not official. I’m just a bit preoccupied at the moment,” he says, which prompts the question, when it comes to a band such as The Buck-fever Underground, what does the word “official” mean?

After all, this is the band that announced the release of their new live album, Limb’s Gone Batty (Jaunted Haunted Press), with a press release stating that the band had decided that the next album would probably take another two years, mocking their own inactivity and disorganised nature.

The band did, in fact, take more than two years to release the live album, which was recorded as far back as May 2007, a few months before Saves was officially launched.

But Limb’s Gone Batty is a welcome addition to Buckfever’s catalogue, the first decent live document of one of South Africa’s most important bands.

Those who have witnessed the band live will know that their tendency for all-out improvisation means that no two shows are ever the same, which makes this live recording even more special.

The album’s highlight is the poignant offering, The South African, which dissects our nation by looking at the individuals who comprise it, aiming some well-placed jabs at all of us.

Others worth a mention are I’m on Facebook, Now What?, The Aids Test and I Saw What Warrick Sony Saw.

Another Buckfever-related release is the debut album from drummer Stephen Timm’s new project, Myrid Ambre. This independently released album is a dark, brooding electronica affair that is reminiscent in parts of the Warp Label’s late-Nineties output, especially Boards of Canada.

Timm has worked up some rather menacing beats for this album, but at times there is a lack of development and some of the songs begin to become monotonous.

When he pulls it off though, the results are fantastic, such as My Gedruimte, which features some great fuzzy guitar from Mkhuseli Mancotywa and vocals from Toast Coetzer.

Other highlights include the oppressive opener Recor, the trippy space jam Weird Realm and the solemn Yesterday is Gone and Tomorrow Never Comes.

You can order Strung Like a Compound Eye and Limb’s Gone Batty from Jaunted Haunted Press at www.jauntedhaunts.co.za and you can contact Stephen Timm at www.myspace.com/myridambre