blk jks ‘abantu / before humans’ is an exhilarating journey
By Nathan Leigh
July 21, 2021
There is a curiosity that pours through every note of BLK JKS’ latest. Within the span of a measure, the band will explore so many seemingly contrasting sounds and styles to make the very concept of a genre irrelevant. Where far too many bands place themselves in a box and say “this is what we sound like,” the South African collective are in a constant process of asking “what else could we sound like?” The result is that Abantu / Before Humans exudes a swirling exhilaration. The thrill of the record is watching the band follow their flights of fancy one moment from sound to sound until it all becomes one.
For a record that’s been in development for roughly a decade since their 2009 debut, it’s impressively cohesive. While standouts like “Human Hearts” and the lead single “Harare” place their alt rock songcraft front and center, the strength of the record is in the so-called deep cuts. The more expansive tracks like “Yoyo!” and “iQ(w)ira – Machine Learning Vol 1” become the place where BLK JKS deconstructs the border between jazz and punk, hip-hop and electronica, folk and rock and render the whole concept of such distinctions reductive. There’s a lot of music that you can put on in the background and do other stuff. Abantu / Before Humans is not that kind of record. It’s one you need to clear space, set the table, sit down, and enjoy the feast. The singles are great, of course, but the magic is in the complete journey.
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