Albums / EPs, Reviews

Album Review: Oh! Dark Arrow – Godspeed Thundercat

PH Fat had carved a certain niche for themselves within the South African music scene: with devout…

 

PH Fat had carved a certain niche for themselves within the South African music scene: with devout followers ranging from pill-popping Assembly/Town Hall regulars, fist pumping bros and lumo crop-top wearing white girls, their kinetic style of electro rap had made them one of the most prominent names in the local indie scene. Songs like ‘Jump’ and ‘Dinosaur Blood’ are still endearing and distinctive electro thumpers. Out of the group’s recent split, however, comes Marc Potgieter’s solo breakout under the moniker of Oh! Dark Arrow. Potgieter created a fair amount of Cape Town buzz with some promising tracks in the last year and that has culminated with the self-released Godspeed Thundercat

In a marked contrast and in a clear attempt to eschew his past, the album has swapped his group’s booming electroclash for an album where the production is darkly sinister and Oh! Dark Arrow’s raps and flow are expressive yet oblique. It straddles the same nocturnal rap territory of an early Odd Future or the nostalgic style of Flying Lotus under his Captain Murphy alias. At the same time, it feels homespun, insular and decidedly idiosyncratic. 

The album opens up with eerie samples on the looming synth-based track ‘Secret Ghost’ that feature snippets of what sounds like old-fashioned computer processes. It’s an interesting introduction that seemingly foreshadows some imminent technological dread. The album moves into its bleak groove with the shuffling ‘Alley of Darts’ that features the saccharine vocals of Nicci St Bruce aka Push Push, whose sharp verses are equal parts Nikki Minaj with the verve of Lil’ Kim.  Potgieter raps about religion and spirituality, “No you’re trying to find your truth in the church / We’re just modern day shamans with the crucifix curse”, as the chorus refrains, “Wave riding in the alley of darts / Shape-shifting through the walls in the dark”. It’s a complicated relationship played out as a ghostly rendition of Bonnie and Clyde and the mutually destructive forces of Oh! Dark Arrow’s character and Nicci St Bruce’s. It’s an impressive and suitably complex entry into the album. 

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The album retreats further into the shadows again with the hazy and swirling synths on the standout ‘Cave Swoons’, again backed by Push. The song also features Comfy Hammocks (Jake Lipman) who drops a taut set of bars where he muses the similar territory of a painful and destructive love, “I like my women like my liquor store, open and unconditional / The one I gotta give up, the other’s non-negotiable” and the wonderfully contemplative “Stop acting like my salvation lies at the hands of the women I keep attracting / It’s impacting on my speech, like my wisdom teeth”. The sharp interplay between Push Push, Oh! Dark Arrow and Comfy Hammocks is the most obvious throwback to mirthless 90s East Coast hip-hop with St Bruce seemingly the wide-eyed ingénue and Potgieter the tormented and conflicted partner. It proves a welcome foil to the minimalist beats.

The album’s minimalism is the most obvious departure from Potgieter’s past. With an opportunity to get hold of the production of his raps for the first time, he opts for beats that are almost skeletal in their sparseness. This is evidenced in the next three songs, ‘Kssh Kssh’, ‘Partyendz’ and ‘Shark Attack’ where the beats are stripped of all frills and backed only by his raps. ‘Partyendz’ is (slightly) brighter in spirit with a lustful refrain that is a modern day reimagining of Monica’s ‘First Night’. 

Although the economy of the production proves an interesting stylistic choice for the album, the beats sound as if they could have been pushed to a more imposing and distinctive territory, one which would have enhanced the gloomy foreboding of the album. Despite this, the raps here are elastic, reflective and yet descriptive and taut – delivered from someone schooled in the art of both freestyle and confessional rap. 

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The album moves to the syrupy sample and instrumental based ‘Hive Traffic’ that serves to reposition us in the night-time street scene that serves as the thematic underpinning of the album. ‘Riders of the Kite Blown’ proves a return to form with an industrial-tinged beat as he muses on how “millionaires gets kites blown for them”. 

The album reaches its conclusion with the non-sequitur laden ‘Night Crawl’ that opens with the endlessly quotable line “In a city of lost dreams, dramatic queens, mom’s jeans, alleyways with the helpless screams” and the Wu-Tang reminiscent horror dread of “Chasing devils in the house of mirrors / Mumble on the couch, trade secrets with a mannequin, gawk at similarities”.  Next there is the reconstructed techno of ‘Dark Pop’ which is the closest to his PH Fat past but also showcases the talents he has as a beat-maker when he opts for a fuller sound, with Cruz (Keke Mahlelebe) offering one of three impressive verses scattered around the album (his delivery is a dead ringer for Potgieter’s; close listening is a must). The album ends with the sombre instrumental closer ‘Silence’ that uses subtle and delicate sounds to find him at his most FlyLo and ends what is an uneven album on an impressive note. 

The twelve tracks here show a very talented MC, gifted at describing and dealing with complex ideas of spirituality, fear and love through the medium of songs about relationships. It would have been interesting to see how much more that complicated balancing act would have stood out if the production stood up, as often, to the impressive bar set by his raps. If anything, however, it also showcases the fierce individuality of Oh! Dark Arrow and proves that the Assembly fist-pumpers may have to start dancing to a new and more potent tune. 

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