Beyond Robotsby Roger Young / 05.11.2009
Before I write this review, before I even listen to the Blk Jks album I must definitively state that I think there is a good chance that the Blk Jks are being overrated right now (please note: I said “are being” not “are”). I say this not because I know anything about the music but because I sense a certain mood or feeling in most of the stuff I’ve read about them that strikes me as a little hysterical. The root of this mood seems to be coming from two angles, both on a patronizing theme. There is this idea that the Blk Jks as some kind of revelation mostly because they are black guys who play rock, even those that say the album is only just good, not excellent, go on about the promise of this band.
It seems to me to be less about the music and more about the fact that to some of these writers the Blk Jks represent a kind of hope that there is a future where black people will stop making that confounding, kwaito, hip hop, afrobeat stuff and just all play rock music. The other distinct feeling I get from all this praise is the overwhelming sense that some people are amazed that black people can actually like rock music, that they’ve actually heard of it. As if taste, intellect and choice is limited to class and race. It’s disturbingly patronizing and the only reason I see it is because I have fallen prey to it myself. Like I won’t name the critics and other musicians who have spoken about the Blk Jks in this way, I won’t mention the young black rock Goth band I fell in love with for three gigs earlier this year. I was so blown away by the fact that they were black Goths that it took me a full two and half gigs to realize that they were just a posy substandard Jesus and Mary Chain. So it’s with all these things in mind that I proceed to listen to After Robots by the Blk Jks…
1st Listen: It’s really murky. I can’t actually listen to it. I cannot. It’s basically horrible. It’s a rolling-drum, wall-of-sound mess. The worst part is that you can hear the good songs under the moan and rumble, some of the tracks off the previous EP have been murdered by the hipper than thou prog rock-esque production.
2nd Listen: This time I make it three songs in before I lose interest, I have to concede that through the noise there is a hypnotic feel to it, it’s almost compelling, but not enough to make me want to sit through it and do a proper review, or ever hear it again. I get the feeling that I might prefer them live in the same way I prefer Lark and KIDOFDOOM live, for the aural assault aspect.
3rd Listen: I’ve had the album for weeks now, editors are making threats, I do not want to listen to it but I force myself again. I am however nowhere near a decent sound system and I am forced to listen to through headphones. I zone out and am not listening anymore when it strikes me, somewhere around the second time I hear “Skeletons”. I start to get it. The chugging skanky beat, The scattered “townshippy” whistles, the booming bass, the hypnotic chanting, the picking lilting guitar of “Cursor”, “Molalatladi”’s muted brass and jiggy frenetic background vocals and beat. This is not a record to think about, this is music that you let overtake you. And then it loses me again as it veers off into guitar wankery. For a brief moment I got it and then it was gone.
After Robots is desperately and purposely murky and inaccessible, in the moments that there is a door into it, its actually not bad, I can almost understand the This-Band-Has-Promise arguments, but not enough to think I will ever listen to it again.