CD Review: Blk Jks - 'Mystery'

  Enlarge Photo    
Friday, June 5, 2009

Kindred Spirits: Lee "Scratch" Perry, Public Image Limited, Secret Machines

Show: Thursday at the Black Cat. Show starts at 9 p.m. 202-667-4490.

"Mystery," the U.S. debut of Johannesburg's Blk Jks, is aptly named. This quartet uses a standard rock band lineup: vocals, bass, drums and two guitars. But everything else about the group is enigmatic, from its vowel-free name (pronounced "Black Jacks") to its loosely structured, dazzlingly unpredictable songs. When the title track asks, "What am I here for?," frontman Lindani Buthelezi's question mirrors the disorienting sonics.

Music has long been one of South Africa's notable exports, and the country's exuberant polyrhythms and lilting guitars have inspired such American musicians as Vampire Weekend and, most famously, Paul Simon. Blk Jks is the first South African band to reverse that cultural-exchange program, taking cues from Anglo-American art-rock. Echo-heavy dub reggae is clearly an influence on the quartet, which floods its material with reverb. But Blk Jks doesn't emulate dub's booming bass and steady cadence, preferring fluid soundscapes with little rhythmic mooring. Even the mini-album's most linear song, "Summertime," takes a wild ride, and the most abstract number, "It's in Every Thing You'll See," floats free of Molefi Makananise's bass and Tshepang Ramoba's drums.

The real mystery of Blk Jks is how the band came to such a poised yet unexpected style.

-- Mark Jenkins

© 2009 The Washington Post Company