Album Reviews

Spoek Mathambo – Father Creeper

(Sub Pop) UK release date: 12 March 2012

When you’re a musical maverick, life isn’t going to be easy when you wear all your influences not just on your sleeve, but crammed into the space of one song. As Spoek Mathambo himself says, he’s “reinterpreting sounds from all over the world and putting a strong South African stamp on it” without recourse to trite travel music tags. Musically this stance produces a kaleidoscopic, chaotic effect that seems at turns impenetrable and electric, but never less than compelling.

Father Creeper, Mathambo’s second album proper after debut Mshini Wam, sees the former medical student expanding his musical palette to take in hip-hop, grunge, dubstep, electro and kwaito to earn the title of ‘township tech’ on an altogether more diverse, more mainstream and yet sometimes repellent soundscape than his debut.

Opener Kite sets out the stall with scratched guitar leading into a building synth wave that erupts into scathing spits of lyrics over a girls’ choice of boyfriend sentiments, set amid computer game bleeps and dark swathes of sub-bass.

Elsewhere there’s militant anger redolent of Saul Williams‘ coruscating take on rap-rock, blips of a electrified Parliament, some Sun Ra, a big pinch of Buraka Som Sistema on the ghetto-street scuttle of the diamond trade themed Put Some Red On It. Graceland this is not.

If there’s any change between his debut and Father Creeper it’s the addition of guitars, as on the playful ’60s beat group fleck of Let Them Talk, or the touches of South African jit-jive guitar that surface out of the electro fog to complement past and future.

The skeletal Skorokoro (Walking Away) pulses in deliberately disjointed time signature on a queasy bed of chants, and processed-to-destruction melody. Spoek is a man of many words spilling out of this in colourful, original bursts of taste, texture and emotions. It can be a cold, unsettling listen with some dark imagery of “natives hanging from trees”, “zombies from the riot days” and offers to “drive you to your grave”, but it’s never done for shock value and the imagery and delivery is always fresh.

Sporting similar disturbed beats, title track Father Creeper is the sound Tom Waits might make if locked in his infamous shed with an 808 and a broken laptop. The title refers to a classic sleazy South African jingle. There’s no escaping the heritage of South Africa, but it’s a forward-looking ‘mofo’ of a record – part TV On The Radio, part Leila for sea-sick phased vocals and menaced harmonies. Never an ‘easy’ listen, it is nonetheless an ultimately a rewarding one.

Most interestingly are the closing duet of Grave (Intro) and Grave, the former being a spooked-out Brian Eno meets Nine Inch Nails instrumental ambient piece that sets up the latter’s slow pace that builds to an almost traditional ‘rockist’ ending, replete with cymbal splash and drum roll.

It’s a blistering, at times thoughtful, scattergun grab-bag of magpie musical styles and broken beat rhymes that somehow hangs together with irrepressible energy and invention. And yet Spoek Mathambo throws up no clues of where he’s going next. On this evidence, it could be anywhere.

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Spoek Mathambo – Father Creeper