TOP 30 ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2000
A brief look at the 20 SA Rock Albums of the year .
Why?: Our SA Rock album of the year, and it wasn't a very difficult decision, despite the strength and quality of the challengers, especially Blk Sonshine. But in the end, it had to go to the new Gauteng band Sharkbrother who released this debut masterpiece onto an unsuspecting audience. On hearing this the first few times the obvious questions arose, as in "who are these guys?", "what have they been listening to?" and "what are they on???". No clear answers have yet emerged, and no adequate descriptions of this dark, deep and vast album present themselves. You just have to hear it and spend time floating in its murky and strange depths.
'TajMahala' has already attracted the usual moody name checks (Nick Cave, "Laughing" Leonard Cohen, Roger Waters), but all comparisons pale when trying to accurately describe 'TajMahala', as this is an original, intangible and unfathomable album, unlike any SA rock album of recent memory. In there one can hear ambient gloom hop, break beats, jazz guitar, Balkan folk songs, vocals resembling those of Tindersticks' vocalist Stuart Staples, strings and arrangements that recall the very weird String Driven Thing, and the sparse bass and space of Young Marble Giants. It will hopefully impress upon many other SA artists the importance of constantly striving to produce honest and subjective work without feeling a constant need to emulate what is happening overseas. Eleven songs, slow and atmospheric arrangements, strange concepts and lyrics, and a 16-minute multi-opus called '3rdset' that settles itself down in the middle of the album and slowly unravels its many secrets and mysteries.
SharkBrother's stated intent is "to provide a counterfoil to the proliferation of rock and jazz bands on the SA scene, providing an alternative that is beautiful and simplistic. This gels with the band's philosophy of a return to aesthetics in art and a move away from the shock tactics employed by the hardcore and the verbose technicality of the supergroup". Fighting talk or cocky hype perhaps, but that's precisely what has been achieved with the measured calm and understated depths of 'TajMahala'.
Sharkbrother are Cobus Rossouw on "guitar, vocals, ego", Steve Savage on "bass, vocals, harmonica, keyboards, percussion, programming, guitar, windchimes, and humility (although he'll argue about the last one)", and Sam Goosen on "violin, vocals, keyboards, and goat's testicle shakers". Our hearts go out, our ears go wide, our hands go clap and our lighters get raised high as we salute the finest album of the year and a huge leap forward for SA Rock.
Best Moments: natureschild, insomnia, thesea, cometothis, onlyyesterday, 3rdset, insideyoursun, autumnsong, punishment, thesea(20000leaguesundermix), americans
Look Out For: Their next album, and anything by their splinter group The Brixton Moord En Roof Orkes!
Title: Blk Sonshine
Artist: Blk Sonshine
Why?: Generally speaking, the most indispensable and wonderful album to come out of South Africa since Juluka's 'Universal Men' debut! Masauko Chipembere and Neo Muyanga are the new duo that comprise Blk Sonshine and they have combined their guitar-playing skills, songwriting talents, sweet voices and eclectic influences (Malawian/American and Botswanan/South African) to produce the most entertaining and evocative, jazz, rock, folk, reggae, kwaito and kwela SA musical fruit salad for ages.
Not a duff note, boring moment or weak section throughout this compelling and joyous collection, which was recorded in California while the duo was on tour in the US. This essential and Fresh (!) self-titled debut should become a permanent fixture on every music system in our country. It touches all the points of the SA musical compass and is unavoidably optimistic and happy. Sing along to songs that are all soon going to become very well known and let some Blk Sonshine into your life and the lives of those around you. The first great SA album of the new century!!
Best Moments: Crazy, Born In A Taxi, Birds Will Sing, Building, Bahlalefi, Agitation, Melting In The Rain, Perfect Love, Borders, I Won't Talk, Soul Smile, Finger Painting A Masterpiece.
Look Out For: The chorus of Born In A Taxi (as featured in that Santam/Yellow Umbrella TV Ad): "Spend my time loving you, if that's what you want me to do, you just have to say do!".
Title: Iron In The Sky
Artist: Robin Auld
Why?: This was just what we needed to end off a very strange year on a positive note, a cool, new album from Robin Auld. No pretensions here from this Cape-based surfer/author/folkie. Just him (with Peter Cohen on drums and Nelson Barbosa on bass), his guitar and the back of a bakkie. Ten songs from the road, about everyday people and situations, drunken girls, queens of pain, a mongoose, driving to Johannesburg and Charly going crazy. All delivered in his usual laid-back minstrel style with that warm, wise and slightly weary voice.
Best Moments: Rikki Tikki Tavi, Met Someone, Which Way To Go
Look Out For: The version of 'Which Way To Go' which Auld wrote with the late James Phillips and which he recorded live with Louis Mhlanga on guitar at the Grahamstown Festival.
Title: A Life Less Strange
Why?: Rising from the ashes of Black Diamond, with new singer Tikara in tow, Sascha Muller and Chris Acker began their latest ascent to pop's mystical heights. They may even get there this time as 'A Life Less Strange' has enough power pop pieces to keep them on the charts for months. The combo of muscular rock arrangements and sweet and sassy vocals should see this band becoming SA pop's newest contenders.
Best Moments: Trying To Believe, Alright, Now I Know, Right Here, Time
Look Out For: All of the above songs, they will steal your heart!
Title: Torn And Tattered
Artist: Henry Ate
Why?: Because Karma-Ann Swanepoel is like our own Sinead - sensitive, outspoken, focused and scarily talented (not to mention her torn-up photo on the album cover!). She and some of her usual musical gang are back, and now re-appearing as the band Henry Ate, after an ill-advised band name switch to Karma. This is their third full album, and it is once again packed with 15 absorbing and hooky little pieces of good Karma and emotional musical magic. Tales of deep thoughts and fears, redemption, madness, sadness and, ultimately, happiness, All the usual Karma staples. Just more so. Her best album yet!
Best Moments: Mad Hatter, Two Seconds, Sunshine
Look Out For: The Irish whistle and bodhran that add some Celtic vibes to the joyful optimism of Sunshine.
Artist: Saron Gas
Why?: Thanks to the impact of their 'Fragile' (hardly!) debut on the contemporary SA hard rock scene and its first single, '69 Tea', on the SA charts, Saron Gas finished the year as the SA noisemakers most likely to be proudly compared to Korn, Rage and Limp. But 'Fragile' rather tipped its (hard) hat to the late Kurt, giving it a slightly older grunge sound and feel. These boys will have to stay on their toes to fend off challenges from the hot, new, young bands like Not My Dog, Jimmy 12" and Roswell Kings. But for now, 'Fragile' is the SA grunge business and Saron Gas have Barney's World at their feet.
Best Moments: 69 Tea, Beer, Dazed and Abused
Look Out For: Big crunching single '69 Tea', the most unlikely but welcome SA radio chart success of the year
Why?: Ignore that awful TV promo/hype masquerading as a comedy program and just listen to the music contained in this debut solo album from the very charismatic Jenny Delenta (henceforth known simply as "Delenta"). Produced, co-written and generally handled by Craigie Dodds, 'Delenta' is a trip hop, dance-pop collection brimming with ideas, attitudes and excellent songs. With a voice groomed in the 'Not The Midnight Mass' collective, and a wit and confidence developed as the roaming presenter on 'Options', Delenta could bring some spark and suss to the SA pop scene.
Best Moments: Fall, Sudan, Higher Ground
Look Out For: Delenta's sister Rosanna's guest vocals on the haunting 'Sudan'.
Why?: Lungiswa "Lulu" Plaajties had more than served her apprenticeship in the Amampondo musical family/collective, and it was time for her to record her own album. MELT 2000 boss Robert Trunz made it happen and the result is our strongest contender for SA/World album of the year. 'Lungiswa' merges African rhythms and languages, acoustic and indigenous instruments, Motown and Maskanda, and her gorgeous voice in an album that is a sheer delight. From the opening lullaby version of our anthem and her spoken self-introduction right through to her impassioned version of Marvin Gaye's 'Inner City Blues', 'Lungiswa' is this year's 'Urbanzulu'.
Best Moments: Inner City Blues, The Crab Song, Fundal
Look Out For: Lungiswa's two stunning versions (in Xhosa and English) of Marvin Gaye's 'Inner City Blues' off his classic 'What's Going On' '70's soul album, an appropriate message for our times.
Title: In The Meantime
Why?: EMI's big SA pop signing of the year (besides Henry Ate) and the resulting debut album 'In The Meantime' must have made the big shots very happy. Craig Hinds is the songwriting maestro behind these 11 tracks and Paul McIver his permanent musical partner in the band. Together they have produced a string of straight-up, hook-filled, perfect pop pieces that saw them gigging around the country and grabbing some prestigious support slots on the back of the success of the first single 'Shine On Me'. And there are many other similar sunny pop moments on this impressive first offering. Another SA band to watch very closely in 2001.
Best Moments: Shine On Me, Don't Lie To Me, Yesterday Again
Look Out For: Those power vocals on Shine On Me and Yesterday Again
Title: Physiognomy Of The Soul
Artist: Bernard Binns
Why?: Bernard had been lying a little low since his heyday in the 80's with The Helicopters (remember 'Mysteries and Jealousies'?... of course you do!), so no one was quite expecting such a strong return to form. Despite its intense title and cover, 'Physiognomy' is a well-crafted and accessible collection of modern styles and pop treats, produced with Adrian Levi. The first impressive SA rock album released this year and still sounding fresh and enjoyable as the year finishes.
Best Moments: Mon Amie (My Friend), Toronto (Canada Moon), Tuna Free.
Look Out For: The beautiful piano intro, sweet chorus, and sexy French verbals of Mon Amie (My Friend).
Title: Strange World
Artist: Just Jinger
Why?: They had to have a go at the English scene, after dominating SA pop for a few years, and 'Strange World' was the result of their labours and new experiences. Recorded mostly in London, their third full album promised a new, poppier direction with the jaunty opening single 'Your Song'. But the rest of the album is your usual Art Matthews slow-fast moody ballads that all seem the same yet never fail to impress in their own inimitable and annoying way. It's worked for them before and will surely do the business in SA again. But is it good enough for over there? Don't cash in your bets just yet, it's a strange, strange world we live in Master Art!
Best Moments: Your Song, Wish I Could Have Told You, Remember Me
Look Out For: That gloriously jaunty piano that gives 'Your Song', and the rest of the album, a rousing opening.
Artist: Springbok Nude Girls
Why?: Impossible to ignore and foolish to write off, even when they produce an album as intentionally complex, and willfully unwelcoming as 'Relaxzor'. The Nude Girls have always plotted and trodden their own path, inviting fan devotion and critical confusion at every turn. Like they care! Apologies to all those 'Blue Eyes' fans, but this is the real deal - hard, loud, Stellenbosch rock/grunge/punk, with trumpets! Fifteen new songs to satisfy and seduce the faithful, and hopefully, new foreign fans.
Best Moments: Smiley Skull Of Faith, Unworldly Beauty, Love Provider
Look Out For: The return of Adriaan Brand's trumpet on songs like 'Unworldly Beauty', bringing back that earlier dreamy SNG sound reminiscent of Arthur Lee's Love.
Why?: Debut album from a pop trio who can't be bothered to come up with an album title, but that's where their lack of creativity ends! Adrian Olivier (vocals and guitar), Mikey T. (bass), and Riaan Combrink (drums) more than justified BMG SA's faith in them with this consistently strong opening collection. A varied serving of sunny and sometimes overcast pop songs, wrapped in some ornate and evocative orchestral arrangements.
Best Moments: Starlight, Come Down, Getting Stronger
Look Out For: The sparkly freshness of Come Down and first single Starlight, proving that SA pop bands are getting happy again
Title: The Slender Nudes
Artist: Ashton Nyte
Why?: Because he says so! Ashton Nyte was born with a terminal dose of overconfidence and so naturally decided to become a rock star. It's not been all beer and braais though, so, stepping temporarily away from the heaviosity of his grunge outfit The Awakening, he relaunched himself as a contemporary 'Glam Vamp Baby' and released 'The Slender Nudes' to the expected mixed reactions. But 'Nudes' proved Ashton can write and play a bit and these darkish, sinister songs throbbed, thrilled and rocked. The dance bunnies have no clue, but the little Goths understand!
Best Moments: Hunting, Glam Vamp Baby, Girlie
Look Out For: Ashton Nyte does his finest Iggy and the Sisters of Mercy impression on the menacing 'Hunting'.
Title: Lately When She Cries
Artist: Jesse Jordan
Why?: The song 'Eastern Bridge', which opens this debut album from this young Cape singer-songwriter-rocker, grabbed the 1999 Shell Road To Fame Pop/Rock Award, setting up the production of this 12 song album in collaboration with Alex Power. It's mostly big ballads and emotional lyrics but all with a strong pop sensibility and educated melodic touch. The playful 'Who Killed Biggie' could also provide an unexpected pop hit and you should try and catch this video which finds Jesse having a fun-filled rampage through a local shopping mall. Keep your eyes and ears on Jesse.
Best Moments: Eastern Bridge, Tears In Her Eyes, Lately When She Cries
Look Out For: Far too many references to women crying and leaving, from such a young dude.
Title: Almost Human
Artist: Even Flow
Why?: This ear-raising seven song demo from a young Gauteng five-person group impressed all with its easy grasp of rock's basics - solid and dark rhythm section, sparky and sensitive guitarists, and a female lead vocalist (Melody Kaye) who sings like a rock angel.
Best Moments: Endless, Burn, Little Mercury
Look Out For: Melody Kaye's soaring vocals and Mark Dumbleton's sparkling guitar touches on 'Endless' and 'Burn', transforming two simple compositions into emotional 70's-like Slick grunge epics.
Why?: Earlier this year, some felt kwaito had lost a lot of the momentum built up by the quality and variety of its 1999 output. By mid-2000 it needed a champion and Mandoza (with co-composer and producer Gabi le Roux) responded with the sheer thumping cool of 'Nkalakatha', which sauntered up to the top of the radio and sales charts and refused to budge for months. The big kwaito crossover hit had arrived and there was plenty more on this very sharp album. Justifiably the year's best-selling SA album.
Best Moments: Nkalakatha, Sihathi Sewashi, Verstaan
Look Out For: The dub mix version of Nkalakatha
Title: Just Another Band
Artist: Off The Edge
Why?: Light and shade, soft and hard, fast and slow... this album from SA stalwarts Off The Edge is one of contrasting sounds and moods. This 3rd official album from Off The Edge was superbly produced by guitarist Peter Hanmer in Johannesburg's Foxglove studios and features the bass playing of Tony Groenewald and the soaring vocals of Judy Marshall. Their first album 'Off The Edge' was released in 1983, followed 16 years later by the highly acclaimed 'On The Run' album in March 1999. In 2000 we have 'Just Another Band'. From the heart-rending 'In My Heart' to the epic 'St Aidans' this album is a pleasure to listen to over and over again.
Best Moments: Cheating, In My Heart, St Aidans
Look Out For: The epic 21 minute suite of Ovation / Blueprint / St Aidans (The 3 pieces are linked by a bass theme that sticks in the brain long after the last notes have faded... )
Title: Serial Boyfriend
Artist: Frank Opperman and Prime Time Addiction
Why?: Acting took a back seat as the Bassline's stage beckoned, so Frank Opperman and Michael Maxwell wrote these eleven gravelly urban ballads, hauled in Anton LaMour (guitar), Concorde Nkabinde (bass) and Barry van Zyl (drums), and the resulting slice of sardonic Melville blues soon began worming its way into Serial Boyfriends and Girlfriends' hearts everywhere. A frank, funny and honest album.
Best Moments: Messing With Love, Come Clean, Pink Dress
Look Out For: Frank combining twee and macho on Happy Birthday. What is this religious tongue-in-chic all about then?
Title: Reconstructing Alice
Artist: Sonja Herholdt
Why?: South Africa's seminal "Olivia Nylstroom-Blonde" (Dusty Springbok?) celebrated her amnesty from the TRC (for earlier crimes against SA pop) and her unexpected return to the music scene by connecting with some contemporary musical "koppe" (Die Naaimasjiene's Theunis Englebrecht, and the group Spiral Staircase) and producing this mature, brave and (sometimes) rocking autobiographical album.
Best Moments: Vertigo, Winkelpoppe, From David's Diary, What Do I Do Now?, Trein Na Matjiesfontein (Malice With Alice Mix)
Look Out For: The unlisted hidden track, which is helpfully listed on the cover as: Track 13: "(Not listed) Hidden track". Sonja, but yet so far (ouch!)
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Om Te Breyten Various
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