My Shed is better than your Studioby Max Barashenkov, image by Jacqui van Staden / 18.10.2010
Out of the slew of albums that you don’t want to write about, sometimes there comes a record you have to review. You want to play it on every jukebox, to tell every one about it, without fancy prose or semi-retarded literary devices.
When the Rambling Bones live EP, Live With Rusty From The Wendy House, was thrust into my shaking hands, I didn’t know it then, but I had just received one of the best South African records of the year. And the crucial words in that sentence are not ‘one of the best’ (to which we will get to later), but ‘South African’, leading us swiftly onto the question – what is South African music really? Is it anything produced on our shores? Is it kwaito? Is it afro-jazz fusion? Can white people even make ‘South African’ sounds? Do they have the right to that title? However you spin it, white boys either play Western music or adopt a second-hand African musical identity.
From an immigrant’s perspective, if you distill South Africa to its core, it has nothing to do with the Rainbow Nation farce. The spirit of this country is that of rebellion, of struggle, of a several decades-long riot, of a fire that, in the years since ‘94, has been slowly dying, despite there being even more to fight for these days. The Mandela legacy is being fucked empty and fucked foul by the ANC pigs, but hey, a victorious struggle party is beyond judgment – don’t raise your voice, don’t raise that middle finger, don’t throw that brick, don’t mix that Molotov, we’ve won, didn’t you hear? Music is irrevocably tied to social issues, to the zeitgeist of the time, and it is sad to see what most local rock artists are putting out. What the fuck are they singing about? New Holland sing about being awesome and driving Range Rovers, the Plastics about being equally awesome and partying at the bar and god knows what those Afrikaans bands bray about. It is then such a joy to hear someone who sings about something real.
Unlike their studio album, Watching and Waiting, which was streaked with themes of heartbreak and loss, the Rambling Bones delve into the semi-political and the pseudo-philosophical on the this record. Take the mature musings on the subject of self-realization and fulfillment of the opener ‘It All Comes Down To This’, take the poetic gander into the question of reality and the future of ‘Crystal Ball’, these tracks make you think instead of snorting down another line of coke. But the record really shines on the ‘Those Grey Men’, ‘Comrades With Fast Cars’ and ‘Run For Cover’ numbers – the tongue-in-cheek political critique is poignant enough to rouse the much needed anger and funny enough not to deteriorate into over-zealous moaning. Even the cover tracks – Rancid’s ‘As Wicked’ and NOFX’s ‘The Desperations Gone’ – echo the South African problem. Take, for example, the first verse of ‘As Wicked’ – can there be a more SA image than homeless men and women rifling through rubbish bins and dying on the side of the road? “There is something coming around…as wicked as it may seem…” they sing, and it’s true, something terrible is about to be unleashed from the closed-door meetings of the ANC Youth League, but no-one seems to care.
You can say that bands can’t fly on the strength of their words alone and you would be absolutely right. Luckily enough, Rambling Bones’ music rapes an equal amount of dick as their lyrical content. Forget expensive studio set-ups which produce full, yet dull, records like Foto Na Dans’ Die Vloed. The Bones kick out the jams in a shed and, by fuck, does it sound good. If you’ve ever seen them play, then the energy of the recording will take you back to that live madness, if you haven’t, it will make you want to. Yes, sure, the EP lacks polish, lacks calculated synth samples, at times the guitar sound fades a little too much, but herein lies its uniqueness – no pretense, just some guys jamming out for no-one but themselves. With a little hesitance, I put forward that, somehow, Jay Bones had stumbled upon a new, local, genre – South African neo-chanson, a seamless blend of folk, punk, rockabilly, ska, emo and that undeniable stink of Johannesburg streets. In the general mess of below-average rock bands with cardboard-cutout identities, Live With Rusty From The Wendy House is like the first fresh breath of a Chilean miner.
Music is a subjective whore, a different face for each customer, so the best I can do is urge everyone to download this EP mahala style and make up their own mind. Don’t be a bitch, enter your email and get the full record from the Rambling Bones website. I await disagreements.