BLK JKS – Mystery EP


BLK JKS – Mystery EP (Secretly Canadian Records; released March 10th, 2009)

Globalization cannot be stopped.

The economic impact of both China and India’s rapidly developing industrial juggernaut looms somewhat menacingly over the landscape; as well as the astoundingly heavy and at times downright scary literary contributions of third-world writers and finally; all this good music.

Places that were once insular have also contributed to the globalization of independent music; in the past ten years there’s been a rise in the influence of Swedish pop (Jens Lekman, The Knife, Jose Gonzalez), New Zealand’s Dunedin Sound (directly influencing Pavement as well as Ruby Suns), the new wave of Scottish post-punk (Franz Ferdinand, The Fratellis), the dominance of Canadian bands (Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, Stars), Icelandic post-rock (Sigur Ros, mum), Naturalismo folk (Devendra Banhart), the list can go on endlessly. I’m better off asking you, “Are you ready for globalization? Because it’s here and it ain’t going away…”

Enter Africa. After last year’s Amadou & Mariam‘s Welcome To Mali ended up at or near the top of about fifty year-end lists, people have been starting to take notice of the wonderful pop music coming out of Africa. I have to admit, outside of Ali Farke Toure‘s album with Ry Cooder and the one King Sunny Ade record I used to have, I know nothing about African music. Which is utter blasphemy- all popular music today can trace its roots back far enough to Africa. Even the banjo is an African instrument.

But the drums; now that’s what I think of when I think of Africa. Talking drums, djembes, ashikos; that’s Africa. And since all music revolves around a basic rhythm, what lays down said rhythm? That’s why I think the drum is the first of all instruments and everything else (hollowed out bones became flutes, stretched strings over a drum with a hole in it gave us lutes and such) came after.

BLK JKS‘ strength lies in its ability to harness the power of the drum. Hailing from Johannesburg, South Africa, and nearby Soweto; these four musicians are straddling the Atlantic- one foot firmly rooted in their traditional mbaqanga, marabi and kwela styles and the other in American indie rock. A perfect blend of polyrhythmic drumming, TV On The Radio‘s dark and danceable synth pop, Lee Perry‘s Black Ark dub and just a touch of psychedelia. It’s at times sparse, light and airy; others it’s dense, heavy and strangling.

Throwing themselves into Secretly Canadian‘s eclectic fold of artists, BLK JKS are currently on their first tour of the US- and as some interwebs have been buzzing on their next big thing status, they’ve been conspicuously absent from others. Check back tomorrow for a show review and pictures- I’ll be seeing them tonight at San Francisco’s Rickshaw Stop.

Lakeside opens the four-song EP with some dark synth ambiance; it kicks in with a punching and layered polyrhythmic drum as the bass angrily adds some growl. This is precisely why they’ve drawn the comparison to TV On The Radio‘s brand of dark and murky soul; lead singer Lindani Buthelezi‘s voice could pass as a dead ringer for Tunde Adebimpe‘s twin. This is a re-worked version of the track I originally heard back in December, and it’s the best song here- both danceable and cloudy in mood.

The next track, Mystery, goes a bit further into nebulous atmospherics- a layered vocal effect is used to great success here; not to mention a searing guitar solo from lead guitarist Mpumi Mcata that lasts a good three minutes without even remotely approaching boring.

Summertime is a dusky number, with the imagery of summer being a bringer of cancer and polluted warm winds; it slowly subverts into a crescendo of emotionality. Bassist Molefi Makananise and drummer Tshepang Ramoba, both from Soweto, are firmly locked into a tight sphere of rhythmic communion. The song comes to a screeching halt upon all four musicians expertly interlocked in a frenzy, twin guitars circling each other over a solid groove.

The EP comes to a close on the swirling and heavily processed guitar and vocal solo effort; It’s In Everything You’ll See. A trippy piece of psychedelia (as witnessed by the excerpt taken from their blogspot page: FUELED BY VOLUBLE CONGO BASIN CORDYCEPS FUNGI WITH HELP FROM YOUR COUSIN AND HER LITTLE FRIENDS), the song acts as both a confessional of sorts and a meandering space-out. Spiritual experiences can be brought about by ingesting large quantities of psychoactive mushrooms (no doubt), and this final track captures both the beauty and fear of laying your naked soul down through the act of purging your ego.

I could give you a million different styles of album reviews; however overwrought or unstrung they become with such a cumbersome tool like language- the fact remains that this EP serves as a glimpse into the mindset of the rapidly expanding globalization of our tiny world, a slice of modernization meets traditionalism. BLK JKS have come from a part of the world where I’d least expect this type of music to come from, and the result is rewarding if not compelling.


1. Lakeside

2. Mystery

3. Summertime

4. It’s In Everything You’ll See