Feel that cold nip in the air? It just might be a warning that Cape Town’s post-rock outfit Benguela are about to blow back into a town near you on the tail end of a Black Southeaster (Jaunted Haunts).
The southeaster in question is their new album — 10 tracks of captivating and spirited improvisational music that offers a darker, harder, jazzier sound than they have previously been known for.
For a band formed by accident, Benguela sure are a powerhouse trio and the band members have played with many of South Africa’s most famous bands and musicians. From Urban Creep, Landscape Prayers, Koos Kombuis and Robbie Jansen to The Dynamics, Chris Letcher and Matthew van der Want, this trio has been around.
Consisting of guitarist Alex Bozas, drummer Ross Campbell and double-bassist Brydon Bolton, the band first came together when Bozas asked the other two to back him at a folk club gig at very late notice, leaving little time for rehearsal.
More than 10 years later the band are still pushing the boundaries of their sonic improvisation and have even managed to record a new album, their fourth, titled Black Southeaster.
With a band name stolen from the cold current running up the west coast of southern Africa and an album title suggesting some rather miserable weather, it is no surprise that some may find the music a little difficult.
This probably comes down to the fact that the band’s sound is atmospheric in nature and builds using numerous constantly shifting elements. The result is pieces that the listener can explore on his or her own terms, without being dictated to by the band.
A perfect example of this is the eight-minute-plus album highlight, Pacific Gyre, which starts with what I assume is a droning, dissonant bouzouki and some minimal percussion.
The song strolls along like this for nearly four minutes, sounding similar to an improvisational recording from violinist Warren Ellis — but then the bass gets more urgent and the song builds. But the climax never comes. The music becomes more primal and then all of a sudden some great jazz keyboards spring into play. It is a completely unexpected, mesmerising moment that captured this critic’s imagination.
Black Southeaster is sprawling music for the adventurous mind — but, trust me, it’s worth the trip.
Mushchops is another expansive masterpiece, opening with a gentle crunching intro before waves of guitar distortion start to nudge the song along and the drums build to a tribal beat. The wow factor of this song is its ability to constantly throw the listener a curveball — just as you begin to focus on one particular element of the sound, the song throws something else into the mix to set you off again.
Like a lost seaman stranded on a rubber dingy, tossed between the storming waves, the listener is likely to be confused and disoriented until he or she realises that this is as much his or her journey as it is the band’s.
Killer Frog Fungus is another highlight, a menacing, swampy tune that is reminiscent of early Primus, but then the guitar starts to dominate the song in a way reminiscent of Sonic Youth, like electric drills creating cavities in your brain.
By the time the band bring the album to a close with Spitzkop, it has become clear that Benguela have recorded one of the finest South African albums of 2010. It’s just going to take some time to digest it all.
Thankfully the band will be sharing this music live with the rest of the country, as they recently announced an 11-date national tour beginning with Black Southeaster‘s official album launch in Cape Town on July 23.
“It’s been a few years since the last tour and several since their last album and the band are eager to get out of the house,” said drummer Ross Campbell in the band’s press release.
So do yourself a favour and pick up a copy of Black Southeaster — it’s a sonic feast.
The Benguela Tour
Benguela play at the George Hotel in Eshowe on July 31, the ArtsCafe at the KZNSA Gallery at lunchtime on August 1 and at Highfield House in Hillary on the evening of August 1.