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Borderline Insanity: Blk Jks, March 3 at RIBCO PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Friday, 27 February 2009 16:58

Blk JksIf you want a sense of how excited the music press is about the up-and-coming South African psychedelic rock band Blk Jks (pronounced "Black Jacks"), you only need to see the art-rock royalty that reviewers name-check.

The stuffy New York Times: "Far closer to TV on the Radio and the Mars Volta than they are to Ladysmith Black Mambazo."

The hipsters at Spin, dubbing Blk Jks a "hot new band" earlier this month: "The electro-funk experimentalism of TV on the Radio with the Afro-pop guitars of Vampire Weekend, and drop in hints of jazz, ethnic African music, and the prog-rock of contemporary acts like the Mars Volta."

If those descriptions pique your interest, is bringing Blk Jks to the Quad Cities, and fans of adventurous rock would be foolish to miss the band's performance at RIBCO on Tuesday, March 3. This is a buzz band poised to make seriously good noise.

The prevalence of the twin touchstones of TV on the Radio and the Mars Volta is lazy in the sense that none of the three bands is WASP-y, but it's also spot-on. It's not so much Blk Jks' sound as it is an approach to sound: the sonic experimentation within song structures of TV on the Radio, balanced by the no-rules aesthetic of the Mars Volta. The South African quartet doesn't mimic either but already stands comfortably alongside them -- quite an accomplishment considering it doesn't yet have a proper album to its credit.

Blk Jks' Mystery EP is 20 minutes of a stiff, cold wind, a warning to the world that quite a storm is coming. The four tracks are dense and musically menacing -- not in the sense of being sinister but tense with pent-up power eager for release. When it comes, the combustion might be joyous and bright -- as on the closing 90 seconds of "Summertime," anchored by a soft, bright, nearly ecstatic guitar melody over a slowly accelerating cacophony -- but it's scary good.

The Fader -- putting the band on its cover last March, before the band had done much of anything on record -- nailed the Blk Jks' strange brew of African roots, prog-rock muscle, and surprise: "In a way, the secret ingredient of Blk Jks' sound is the long and venerable tradition of township jazz ... . There's also metal there, in the sense of Cream, Deep Purple and early-early Sabbath, when metal was not a genre with rules and uniforms but a tendency, a serrated edge occasionally cutting the surface of rhythm and blues like the tailfin of something terrifying just below the surface. Then there are the traditional South African strains the members grew up with, alongside Fela and reggae. Somehow the force of all those elements swinging away at each other lifts the whole thing off the ground like a fish-tailing helicopter."

Vocalist Linda Buthelezi -- in a phone interview from the Indiana studio where the band is rehearsing for its second jaunt through the United States -- said recording the EP over a weekend with producer Brandon Curtis (frontman of Secret Machines) gave the band a sense of its possibilities.

"The EP was rather overly produced," he said, but don't take the "overly" to mean the band was dissatisfied with the results. Rather, he said, Mystery was a learning experience: "Nothing was really missing, but on a personal level it was an introduction to what can be done with our sound. So that was pretty much an eye-opener, as to different directions we could take as a band."

Bassist Molefi Makananise added: "We had time to experiment and see the other potentials that the band had."

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Two of the EP's songs -- "Lakeside" and the layered, atmospheric, and elegiac "It's in Everything You'll See" -- have been re-worked for the Blk Jks' first full-length, which the band finished recording two weeks ago with Curtis, Buthelezi said. The album should be released by late summer, he said.

The carefully sculpted sound of Mystery is likely to be loosened for the album, Buthelezi said, and the audience at RIBCO on Tuesday should expect more of the explosiveness that's largely latent on the EP.

"We're just brothers on the stage, just bouncing off each other's vibe," he said. "I'd just say borderline insanity."

Blk Jks will perform at RIBCO on Tuesday, March 3. Yes Future is also on the bill, and the all-ages show starts at 7 p.m. Cover is $7.

For more information on Blk Jks, visit or

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