Momentss is a Cape Town-based band that fuses the frenetic, rapped vocals of Motheo Moleko and the instrumentals of Rob Scott (guitars/keyboards), Daniel Gray (bass) and Asher Gamedze (drums). To date, they have released only two live recordings from a show they played at the Assembly in 2012, but they still managed to create enough hype around their idiosyncratic project to nab a main-stage spot at Rocking the Daisies this year. On Pretext, the band’s debut six-track offering, the three-piece confidently announce their unoccupied niche in the local music scene. They ambitiously tackle topical political and social issues; but over an inconsistent 28 minutes, they struggle to do so with gravitas.
‘The Vibe’ commences the record with upbeat fervour. It stands as the album-highlight with witty lyrics and an insidiously danceable beat, harking back to the unassailable groove that now-disbanded New York cats The Virgins brought to guitar-pop for a short while. Moleko’s sense of humour shines through as he takes the piss out of the police commissioner and his ‘shoot to kill’ slogan. Fattened pockets, the Marikana Commission and Nkandla (“where my taxes at?”) are on Moleko’s mind as he launches a four-minute barrage on the South African political landscape.
The commendable opener leads into ‘Tennis’, a self-revelatory, critical cut with a soulful hook and closing jam to boot. Things take a turn for the austere and slightly puzzling with the incoherent ‘Back at the Start’. The song offers an engaging, desperate presentation – a harsh contrast to ‘The Vibe’ – that takes an unfortunate downturn with an egregious narrative and tone shift. The second half of the track is needlessly draining. While Moleko’s inspiration behind the song’ is ostensibly sincere, the point of the song is lost on the listener.
‘Roger’ kicks off with a blues-y riff and settles into a doom-influenced groove. Moleko’s rapping is a consistent sonic force, but this song marks a noteworthy marriage of his vocals with the instrumentals. Penultimate number ‘Psychosis’ is the lyrical centrepiece of Pretext. Moleko’s verses are at their most affecting and most menacing here. Amidst his anti-smooth flow, there are no threats of violence or extremism; hard truths are his sole weapons. The track blends into closer, ‘Snowed In’. Here Momentss attempt to critique consumerism. The song’s two-minute running time is useful in keeping the LP’s length sub-30 minutes, but regrettably, this is where its utility stops short. The superficial reduction of the pitfalls of consumerism to a single, repeated line is ironic and ineffective. Nevertheless, the song still manages to convey a point on government surveillance with some incisive references and a superb pun-as-title while admirably resisting the temptation to turn Edward Snowden’s surname into a hook.
The excellent cover art for this record provides at the outset that Pretext will not be smooth-sailing hip-hop. The image of child-like innocence faced with brute force was also recently put to good use on Odd Future fringe-member Vince Staples’ Hell Can Wait EP. But whereas the latter innovatively finds means of criticising society’s status quo, Pretext fails to deliver a fresh perspective on the important issues it pinpoints. In spite of the colossal themes this band attempts to make accessible on a grass-roots level, and the sincere delivery, the end result is still regrettably superficial. The issues grappled with are done so with the same buzzwords that are used by the news and media that Momentss condemn. As such, the band target the controversial without creating controversy.
Momentss have potential on their side. They are exciting because there is little else like them on the local music spectrum. Other than afro-rock performance artist collective, The Brother Moves On, and doom rap outfit DOOKOOM, there has been a dearth of politicised local music in recent years. And Moleko and co do not seem to have cottoned onto this gap in the market as much as they seem to be genuinely themselves in the right place at the right time. That being said, Momentss would do well to trust their audience and offer deeper, more nuanced opinions on the issues they choose. Anything less means they succeed only in presenting the pretext of that which they intend on attacking.