Here at Mahala albums stack up exponentially, digitally and on CD. Often they’re not exactly worth a full review but definitely worth a mention. Occasionally we will compile a selection of music you should know about, either as a recommendation or a warning.
No Big Deal/ City Bowl Mizers/ CN
I put on the latest American pop punk release. It’s great. Production values are top notch, nothing is muddy, the lead and backing vocals blend together seamlessly, the guitars are perfectly defined and the drums kick it in all the right places. It’s an EP of catchy melodies and vocal hooks, made for sensual one-on-one self-abuse sessions. The fact that it comes out of Durban, South Africa, is clearly a mistake. Maybe not though, but who gives a fuck where it originated, it will make radio waves go straight anywhere. These guys, wherever they are from, clearly know what they are singing about, the lyrics setting this record apart from the rest of the stable. They know the frailty of their situation, balancing between popular and street, midst getting commercial and staying underground, caught hanging, neither old and nor young. Through their frontman, engineered into perfect flatness and anonymity, they speak of the real predicament facing so many bands. Will you meet us at the halfway line or do something truly unique? Whatever the answer is, I’ll knock myself out drunk to this record tonight and dream of how gloriously spectacular it would be to see these tracks live.
*Download the free City Bowl Mizer’s No Big Deal EP here.
Self-titled/ Birdy/ AVW
The opening seconds of Jasmine von den Bogaerde, aka Birdy’s, self-titled debut is filled with angelic chimes and trickling with synthesizers leading into a ‘conventional’ pop rock song, which used to be ‘1901’ by Phoenix. She came to the public’s attention with her cover of Bon Iver’s ‘Skinny Love’ which, after a few listens, began to grow on me. But her album can only be described as a ‘cover album’ and is devoid of any form of originality, with Birdy covering songs by James Taylor, Fleet Foxes and The Postal Service. The entire effort is mainly used to showcase her vocals, with her receiving only one song-writing credit through the mediocre ‘Without a Word’. Every song seems to be her taking some indie rock standards and turning them into ‘conventional’ pop rock songs. And this is what you can describe her music as, ‘conventional’, from start to finish. But with a voice like hers, filled with emotion and a powerful, controlled strength, she does ‘conventional’ really well. If one removes the idea of it being a ‘cover’ album from their head, and focus on her voice, we’ll notice her talent and where the artistry of the album lies.
Tomahawk / Sean Paul/ TM
I approached this album expecting an on-form Sean Paul, much in the tradition of his collaborations and riddim appearances sans reaching critical mass with Dutty Rock. Even after the runaway success that Dutty Rock was, this Kingston native could still pull off a trick or three on dubplates and album cuts every so often. But not here! It becomes evident from the on-set when one examines the album cover art; it depicts a mohawked, pensive-looking, outright-ridiculous figure covered in shades. The entire album is more dance than dancehall, which leaves very little room for Paul to explore the music and engage with varying shades of sound. Instead, we are subjected to a caustic concoction of similar-sounding, gag reflex-inspiring pop disguised as ‘a step in a new direction’, to paraphrase Sean Paul. While his music has arguably always been geared towards the clubs, he always managed to strike a balance with the more ‘dutty’ soundsystem culture which saw him through his meteoric rise in the late nineties. Album opener ‘Got to love you’ is promising, and so is ‘How deep is your love’ and ‘Roll wi di don’. But these, unfortunately, are brief, incomplete, and half-hearted efforts which needed to be flashed out some more, perhaps even serving as a bridge for the departure from sound which characterizes this album. They have a phrase in Lesotho for attempts this: ‘e eafofotsa’, meaning that the object or situation being referred to is below-par, lukewarm, and lucklustre.
Brighter/ WhoMadeWho/ TK
Brighter, the third studio album from Danish electro-pop outfit WhoMadeWho, checks all the boxes for a WhoMadeWho album. Light hearted singles, laden with Disco bass driven hooks and soft, falsetto vocals. Much like their contemporaries, such as Hot Chip, they have found a niche between the cheese of hook driven pop and dance genres such as house and electro. As most tracks on the album are in your face pop, it is difficult to pick favourites. Stand out tracks include the release single ‘Inside World’ as well as ‘Running Man’, both care free, disco fluff. ‘Never had the Time’ is slightly darker, with a fuzzed out bass setting the tone for this driving track. Even the slower tracks such as ‘Skinny Dipping’, with it’s soft, pulsating pads and slap-bass line, still has that dance groove, thanks to the four on the floor drumming. While not breaking any new ground, the group has managed to produce an album that stands out thanks to the quality of the production and the catchy song writing. If you don’t take the album too seriously and enjoy the music for what it is, good, clean electro pop, you won’t be dissappointed.
The Paper Cut Chronicles II/ Gym Class Heroes/ AVW
Rap rock outfit Gym Class Heroes have always been on the fence for me. They’ve always treaded that thin line between sincere and contrived. After I heard their 2003 debut The Paper Cut Chronicles, I thought of them as ‘ummm…pretty good’. They took influence from the ‘golden age hip hop’ of the 80’s and recreated it with a sonic boom layering it with Travis Mccoy’s rough, but middle-class kid rhymes. But as the years went by and after 2 albums they release The Paper Cut Chronicles II and a lot has changed. This album is highly artificial. While the instrumentation is technically good and well performed, it all boils down to the same old ‘rap rock’ tricks. Antiquated build-ups, melodic hooks with a pop star, smooth bass is what makes up the album. Song’s like ‘Holy Horseshit, Batman!’ and single ‘Stereo Hearts’ play to these little blueprints and don’t fall far from Lil Wayne’s sad attempts at playing guitar. Travis Mccoy’s sincere rhymes, which peppered their second album As Cruel as School Children, have disappeared and been replaced by an arrogant and fixed persona recycling the same old lines we’ve all heard and spends the majority of the time talking about nonsense.
TK – Themba Kriger
AVW – Andrei van Wyk
TM – Tseliso Monaheng
CN – Claire Novak