BLK JKS, ‘After Robots’ (Secretly Canadian)
The reach of Western monoculture, the end of apartheid, the Internet, mp3 file-sharing…we may never know what seismic historical shift to thank for the musical stew that is South Africa’s BLK JKS. But in the 21st century, this quartet has been loosed from history and geography. Rather than build upon Ladysmith Black Mambazo or Thomas Mapfumo (who defined South Africa’s Stateside musical influence in the 1980s) or attempt an East-West melding à la Graceland, BLK JKS emulate the grandiose rock gestures of their peers and contemporaries: TV on the Radio, Radiohead, U2.
Already experiencing success at home when tastemaker Diplo encountered them, BLK JKS (guitarists Lindani Buthelezi and Mpumi Mcata, bassist Molefi Makananise, and drummer Tshepang Ramoba) soon were entering New York’s Electric Lady studio with Secret Machines’ Brandon Curtis as producer for their 2009 EP Mystery. Flashing all the (slight) overreach of a much-anticipated debut album, After Robots still exuberantly delivers. “Banna Ba Modimo” bests the Mars Volta at their own game: anthemic, knotty, horn-laced, explosive. “Skeleton” is a prog-dub concoction lanced by Buthelezi’s falsetto, which recalls TVOTR at their most eclectic, while “Lakeside” evokes them at their catchiest. And epic centerpiece “Kwa Nqingetje” reimagines OK Computer if it had been unwittingly downloaded by teens in a Johannesburg township. Let the mythologizing begin.