Press play -- hot music for the holidays -- South Africa

We review the hottest latest CDs, just in time for the holidays.

AMPERSAND: Demonomania (Jaunted Haunts)
AMPERSAND: This Is Not a Drill (Jaunted Haunts)

Cape Town guitarist Righard Kapp’s independent record label, Jaunted Haunts, has almost doubled its catalogue in the past month, releasing three new records. Two of them are from Johannesburg’s lo-fi singer-songwriter extraordinaire Ampersand, aka Warren Cohen. The first, This Is Not a Drill, was originally released in 2007 in a limited pressing and has now been reissued by Jaunted Haunts.
This is great news for fans of experimental South African music because great songs like Henry, Still Life and Stars & Cigarettes are available once again. The second is a new EP of songs, Demonomania, six tracks in total. Opener 10-Minute Airtime, Esprit d’Escallier and Up against the Sun see Ampersand continuing with his lo-fi sound and disaffected vocal performances. They show significant growth from his previous album, at times venturing into Animal Collective territory circa 2004’s Sung Tongs. All three songs were recorded while Ampersand spent a stint in London. The EP is rounded off with another three songs. The first, Tonight You Belong to Me, is a cover of a 1926 song written by Billy Rose and Lee David and sees Ampersand manipulating his voice into a high-pitched whine. One Day You Will Speak with Yourself is a gritty little song reminiscent of Americana band Deer Tick, and the last track is a trippy little remix of Still Life from his debut album. On the strength of this EP and recent live shows, Ampersand is one to watch. Here’s hoping for a full-length album soon. If you want to buy copies of these albums contact Kapp at [email protected] Lloyd Gedye

THE ARROWS: Make Believe
(Universal)

Reviews of Durban jazzy-pop-indie band the Arrows typically start with a reference to the band’s Christianity. So now that that’s out of the way, I can go on to tell you about the female duo’s delightful take on life and faith, and their inventive keyboard and percussion-driven music. Think Regina Spector with shades of that other quirky female-fronted South African act, Dear Reader (formerly known as Harris Tweed). The Arrows’ 2007 EP was well received and after inexplicably dropping third member Bongani Zondi, the Arrows has gone on to debut with a polished and professionally produced album, courtesy of its deal with Universal SA. It’s musically intelligent pop, with elements of electronica, dance and rock—and, of course, lots of jazzy interludes, thanks to lead singer Pamela de Menezes’s jazz music major at the University of Cape Town. This is coupled with thoughtful lyrics spanning different biblical and spiritual themes. Though these are never preachy, sometimes they do run the risk of being too talky. But the songs always break through, thanks to the duo’s instinctive grasp of catchy pop hooks and tight arrangements, which keep you bopping your head till the last note. Thank the Lord for good music.—Verashni Pillay


BITTEREINDER: ‘n Ware Verhaal (Rhythm Records)

Does a South African music scene that has already had to deal with Jack Parrow’s incessant penis jokes and Ninja and Yo-landi Vi$$er’s headline grabbing antics in 2010 actually need another Afrikaans hip-hop project? The answer is yes, because Bittereinder is the real deal and, unlike its South Africans peers mentioned above, the band actually has something to say. Formed in early 2009, Bittereinder’s genesis can be traced back to Jaco van der Merwe making some calls to Peach van Pletzen (Yesterday’s Pupil) and visual artist and music video director Louis Minnaar about starting an Afrikaans hip-hop project. Van der Merwe had been plying his trade as an English rapper under the stage name Ajax, but was keen to rap in his home language. Van Pletzen was already playing drums in Tumi Molekane’s band, The Volume, and Minnaar had been on a roll creating award-winning music videos for Van Coke Kartel, Die Heuwels Fantasties, Jacob Israel and Van Pletzen’s solo project, Yesterday’s Pupil. So, less than a year later, we have the band’s debut album, ‘n Ware Verhaal. Album highlights include Almanak, which reminds me of the Beta Band, and A Tale of Three Cities, featuring Parrow, Molekane and Van der Merwe rapping about their relationships with their respective cities—Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria. This is one Afrikaans hip-hop crew you need to hear.— LG

GIVAN LOTZ: Easy Now (Jaunted Haunts)

The other new album released in the past month by Jaunted Haunts is Givan Lotz’s Easy Now. Understated and addictive, Lotz’s album is reminiscent of the work of Elliot Smith and to a lesser extent Nick Drake. Having witnessed Lotz performing live a few times in the past few months, his quiet, almost whispering stage persona is incredibly captivating and has regularly spun audiences into a silent trance as they hang on his every word. Not quite folk, not quite full-blown experimental music, Easy Now finds a space somewhere between these two. Sheep Head and Soon are early highlights, but the album’s standout is the title track, a haunting little gem of a song, which sounds like an Antony & the Johnsons song without all the vocal gymnastics that comes with Antony Hegarty. The album was self-recorded lo-fi style by Lotz and he only produced a small number of the CD to give to friends. Then Jaunted Haunts label boss Righard Kapp stepped in to give the album an official release, asking Cape Town producer Dirk Hugo to remaster it. If you want to buy copies of this album, contact Kapp at [email protected] —LG

JACO + Z-DOG: Goudwerd
(Independent)

Gauteng’s noise terrorists, Jaco + Z-Dog, are back with a new EP and it is even better than their first. It was just a few months ago that the Mail & Guardian was raving about the band’s debut offering, Eerste Leerstelling, released in April this year. Jaco + Z-Dog’s use of crunching distorted guitar riffage and very tongue-in-cheek lyrics hit the sweet spot for this critic. Their second EP is another brilliant sucker punch between the eyes. The title track starts with Jaco clearing his throat to an electronically manipulated guitar riff, but soon finds its groove. ‘Ons is die kakste band in die land, hands down, dis wat ons vriende sê” sings Jaco in typical self-deprecating style. Blinkvosperd is a reworking of an old Afrikaans folk song about a guy going to fetch his girl on his blinkvosperd, a song about Jaco’s motorbike maybe? Google Jouself is another complete piss-take with Jaco encouraging the band’s fans to ‘Google ons band/ Google ons band/ wag wag ons is nie op Google nie”. The last track, Brannas Ballade, is a reworking of another old Afrikaans song, titled Brandewyn Laat My Staan, in which Jaco screeches, ‘Brandewyn is my baas”. The album draws to a close with Jaco saying, ‘Ek is nou klaar met hierdie kak, kom ons gaan kry vir ons a fucking drink, man”. You could listen to the idea-starved music coming out of Bellville at the moment or you can get your hands on some real Afrikaans punk rock.— LG

RATTEX: Streets, Raps & Us (Pioneer Unit)

The follow-up to 2008’s Bread and Butter is an 11-track EP, which you’d think would make it an LP. But nobody will quibble at the number of tracks once you have taken a listen (seven songs, two remixes and two a cappellas) and apparently this is typical of the spirit of generosity always referenced by those who work with Cape Town’s independent music label Pioneer Unit. Rattex is from Khayelitsha, and his style, mixing isiXhosa, Cape Flats slang and English, is termed spaza. It is aggressive, driving and doesn’t stray into fancy whimsical tangents to make it more commercial. If you don’t understand isiXhosa, you’re going to miss the minutiae of his message, but you won’t mistake his delivery as anything but angry and committed. The remix of Let’s Move, by Swiss electro-dub dudes Filewile, is a winner, adding a bright underpinning to the original’s dirtier mix. The a cappella songs are great, burning with energy, although you’re not going to dance to them. Pioneer Unit has embraced the 21st century, unlike many of its more old-fashioned compatriots, so you can download the EP from pioneerunit.com. —Chris Roper

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