Category: Reviews (page 1 of 5)

Thriving in hard mode

There are some bands that you’ve loved for so long, they become more than just a soundtrack to your life. They’re woven into the fabric of all its moments, big and small.

I was in Matric when two iconic SA bands, the Eight Legged Groove Machine and the Electric Petals, collided and gave birth to the beauty that is WONDERboom. It was 1996, and South Africa was in many ways still going through her own labour pains in the early years of a fragile new democracy. And as much as many young South Africans may have tapped into the ‘Seattle Sound’ and all the other incredible music sweeping the world in the 90s, we were hungry for music that represented us and all the things we were feeling in the wake of so many changes. Gone were the days of having ‘local is lekker’ shoved down our throats while ‘artists’ like Patricia Lewis and Steve Hofmeyr flicked their blonde hair and their questionable lyrics at us in school auditoriums. We wanted something authentic. Something real. And so a wave of incredible bands emerged in SA in the mid- and late nineties that delivered what we needed, and then some, and WONDERboom was right up there with the best of them.

Of course, being a Durban girl, I may have listened to WONDERboom from the start, but I didn’t get to watch them until they opened for Live in 2000. It was like being punched in the face in the best possible way. If we could harness the energy from their live performances, we’d end loadshedding in an instant. I was hooked. And I stayed hooked.

But of course, I still lived in Durban, which meant even during the heady days of the late 90s and early 2000s, when the live music scene was really thriving, opportunities to see some of the bigger SA bands were scarce. Still, some of my favourite memories of WONDERboom include road tripping to watch them at festivals like Woodstock, and near-transcendent moments of seeing them singing Africa under a huge sky littered with stars, with the band members all wearing giant white angel wings.

And then came the forum years. Long before the social media laden lives we live today. It started out with the band having a sort of chat function on their website, allowing you to (ostensibly) send messages to them. I just used to send hundreds of messages asking them to come to Durban and to please play Bang. I can’t imagine why they ignored me. But as they were getting ready to release All the Hits in 2005, the forum somehow exploded. And suddenly there were Forum Girls™. Which was a lot more innocuous than it sounds. We travelled the country to watch the band, and for a long time, I lived on a diet of toast, low cost airline tickets, and bad financial decisions. Washed down with a lot of tequila. Underpinning it all was the incredible music that WONDERboom just kept delivering.

And they’re still delivering. Their latest album, Hard Mode, was released on 22 March, and I honestly think it’s their best yet. It’s a step up from all their previous albums, both in terms of musical and lyrical content, and in terms of production (courtesy of the legendary Matthew Fink). In the last couple of years, as they’ve been developing the songs for this offering, I’ve watched them evolve their sound into something that is still intrinsically WONDERboom, but is also a little bit darker, a little bit more indie, a little bit more polished, while still being raw and real and authentic. I don’t like to say more mature, because obviously we were all tiny babies when this adventure started 28 years ago, and are still incredibly young, but yes, that too. It’s one of those albums that you fall in love with instantly, but that you also know is going to keep growing on you the more you listen. Early frontrunners for favourite song include Alive, Deadly, and Prodigal Son, but you really can’t miss with any of the 11 tracks included.

It’s not easy being a musician in South Africa at the best of times. Having the staying power to still be creating beautiful, fresh music and delivering insane live performances after 28 years is even harder. Hard mode, for sure, but still thriving. Somewhere along the way, fandom turned to friendship, and so I may be biased. But I really believe we could erase the nearly 20 years of that friendship (let’s not), and I’d still be in love with this album. It’s so good. And while we had to wait nearly seven years for Hard Mode to materialise after their last album, it was unequivocally worth the wait.

A beautiful evolution

You’d have to be living under a rock to have missed the fact that stalwarts of the local music scene, the Springbok Nude Girls, released their long-awaited latest album, Partypocalypse, earlier this month. It’s quite something for a band to still be releasing music after 27 years – and when that music is still able to capture the hearts of their from-the-beginning fans, that’s even more impressive.

For a band like the Springbok Nude Girls, who arguably became the sound of a generation of South Africans, the weight of expectation must be almost unbearable. How do you live up to that kind of reputation? Even as a fan, it’s a little nervy.

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Finding beauty in dark spaces

On Wednesday night, I was one of the fortunate few who attended the premiere of BLVD HVNNY’s new music video, Nocturnes, and first live performance. The intimate event took place at The Bioscope, recently relocated to 44 Stanley, and it was the perfect setting for what turned out to be a truly magical evening.

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As fairy lights twinkled in Casalinga’s beautiful restaurant last Saturday night, an expectant hush settled over the music lovers waiting to be treated to the latest chapter in the long and eventful tale of local rockers, WONDERboom. Continue reading

Book Club: The Mitford Murders – Jessica Fellowes

Things have been a little quiet on this site lately – I can’t really believe that over a year has passed since I last posted, but life has been a smidge chaotic. And this review, while not a year old, is a little overdue as well. The Mitford Murders, by Jessica Fellowes, was my first book of 2018, and it definitely got my reading year off to a good start. Continue reading

This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven

It’s taken me a couple of days to get my thoughts in order to write this review, because honestly, seeing the Pixies live at Rock on the Lawns was completely surreal for me. By the time I discovered and fell in love with the Pixies in the early 90s, they had pretty much broken up, so I really never expected to get to see them live – this made Saturday night’s gig even more special. Continue reading

Book Club: Forget-me-not Blues – Marita van der Vyver

I’ll start by admitting that I’m a bit late to the party on this one. More than three years late in fact, considering that Forget-me-not Blues by Marita van der Vyver was published in late 2012. It’s a strange thing…for someone who supports local music with an almost zealous fervour, I have read very little local fiction. A shameful oversight which I plan to remedy going forward, particularly since I loved every delicious moment of reading this book. Continue reading

EL VY – Return to the Moon


I think at this point my love for The National and frontman Matt Berninger is fairly well established. So I was, of course, quite pleased when he formed side project, EL VY (pronounced, according to them, like it rhymes with hell pie) with Brent Knopf of indie rock band, Menomena in 2014. Brent also happens to be the producer of South African band Dear Reader’s album Replace Why With Funny, so there’s a bit of a local connection too. Return to the Moon, the band’s debut album, was released in November 2015 and was undoubtedly my favourite album of the year.

EL VY features the sublime (I think the technical term is panty dropper) baritone of Matt, making it instantly recognisable as his side project, and I suppose comparisons to The National are inevitable. While the vocal style is similar, with a few more forays into a higher register than we’d usually hear, the tracks are a lot more light-hearted than the dark beauty we have come to associate with The National. On Return to the Moon you can expect a mixture of upbeat indie-synth-pop and some really crunchy, grungy tracks, with one or two more melancholy numbers that wouldn’t have been out of place on The National’s last album, Trouble Will Find Me. A musician friend and fellow Berninger obsessive tells me that EL VY is all about the major keys whereas The National favours minor keys…I just take his word for that because the only thing I know how to play is the fool.

Whether you are a The National fan or have never heard of them (for shame!), if you love beautiful music and quirky, intelligent lyrics, you’ll adore EL VY, no matter who you compare them to. I’m hard pressed to choose a favourite song off this debut album as each of the 11 tracks has something special to offer. The title track, Return to the Moon, is probably the most upbeat and singalongable (totally a word), while I just love the dry humour and grungier sound of I’m the Man to Be. Need a Friend, No Time to Crank the Sun and Sad Case are also notable tracks for me, but really, it’s actually impossible to choose one I love best.

I hope we get to hear lots more out of the fabulously quirky EL VY. Definitely a highly recommended album.


Book Club: The Thing about Jellyfish – Ali Benjamin

I wouldn’t ordinarily consider myself a reader of the Young Adult genre but I received an uncorrected proof of Ali Benjamin’s debut novel, The Thing about Jellyfish, and it intrigued me enough to make me want to participate in the SA blog tour publicising the release of the book. I’m so glad I did. Continue reading

Book Club: Dark Places – Gillian Flynn

The name Gillian Flynn should ring a bell for fans of the extremely successful book (and movie) Gone Girl. I loved Gone Girl so I was very keen to tackle her previous work, Dark Places…and boy was I in for a seriously creepy treat! Continue reading

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