The Afro-Futurism of BLK JKS


20. Jun. 2009, 3:20

If you haven’t heard the swirling, diverse musical landscape of BLK JKS, drop what you’re doing and throw some of their tunes on your favorite music player, ASAP. Pronounced like “Black Jacks,” this four-piece band from Johannesburg, South Africa is unlike any rock band to come along in recent memory. Although they’re drawing comparisons to bands like TV on the Radio and Vampire Weekend, those really are just reference points. Make no mistake, BLK JKS are fiercely their own musical force.

On their debut EP Mystery released this past March on Secretly Canadian, they’ve managed to carve out a unique musical identity, drawing from many genres including , , , and . Racking up praise from such notable publications like The New York Times, SPIN, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker and LA Weekly, Mystery is generating a lot of buzz for a little 4-track EP.

Rightfully so, too. Guitarist Mpumi Mcata simultaneously creates haunting, echoing effects as well as explosive, energetic solos. Mystery’s first and self-titled track is a perfect example. Imagine a modern-day Jimi Hendrix raised on a steady diet of Sonic Youth exploration.

Mystery’s second track Lakeside shows off the dub-flavored percussion work of drummer Tshepang Ramoba to outstanding effect. Anchored by bassist Molefi Makananise and singer Lindani Buthelezi, BLK JKS’ music floats along in a colorful blend of truly global flavors. It manages to be unpredictable, cascading off in a number of unusual directions, but never unaccessable. Summertime, for example, is certainly a -tinged tune but simply calling it “” doesn’t do it justice. For every influence BLK JKS bring to the table, they take that starting point and expand upon it until all the boring, predictable traits have been exorcised and we’re left with only a hint of the familiar to loosely ground us. Meanwhile, like any good artist is supposed to, a whole new musical landscape has been built on that foundation, and we are left to explore this strange, new musical path at our own risk.

BLK JKS’ music is both challenging and thoughtful at times. There’s a certain ponderous musing to be found in most of the lyrics, which are predominately in English (”All the wise men ’round the world don’t know the answers…”). There’s even some straight-up dark shit (”Sweet summertime, burning cancer in my skin…”). Still, there’s a certain energy that penetrates through the dark, obtuse subject matter. BLK JKS’ instrumentation confronts its lyrical demons in such a way that the listener doesn’t get bogged down in the melancholy. Rather, you’re able to confront it and move on thanks to the exotic and alluring song structures.

The band is set to release their full-length debut After Robots on September 8th through Secretly Canadian. For the recording of the album, the band traded the hot and hazy South African summer for the indifferent midwest American winter of Bloomington, Indiana. Brandon Curtis of The Secret Machines joined the band at the controls of the “Hypnotic Brass Ensemble” which will appear on a number of the tracks providing “the swagger of aggressive horn stabs.” Molalatladi is our first taste of After Robots and if this is any indication of the album as a whole, it’s safe to say we can expect big things from this band in the immediate future. Take a listen courtesy of the band’s official blog and catch the band hitting up some festivals in the UK and Germany later this summer.

"Molalatladi" from AFTER ROBOTS
Stream "Lakeside" on NPR

Similiar Artists: TV on the Radio, Yeasayer, Sonic Youth, The Mars Volta, De Facto, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, Brenda Fassie, Electric Owls, Lemonade, Tortoise

This article and more like it available at SleepWalKing Magazine.


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