Albums / EPs, Reviews

Album Review: Oh! Dark Arrow – Summer Slow Shit

74Godspeed Thundercat, released in May, successfully announced Marc Potgieter’s departure from his electro-heavy-rap roots of PHFat, as well as the shift of Oh! Dark Arrow (ODA) from solo project to crew. The skeletal production, complemented by the flow of all three MCs, always seemed to pay off. It was only on instrumental numbers that the absence of rapping highlighted the production’s bareness. Summer Slow Shit displays some consistency in this regard, but finds the rapping taking a more prominent stance. The production is also less sinister than before and often bolder, holding a more noteworthy presence that matches well with the gutsier verses. The instrumental tracks on the debut LP were eerie, providing a gloomy look into the ODA psyche, standing well on their own, even if they were slightly sparse. The ones on Summer Slow Shit, however, are less clutching and provide greater breathing space. Whereas the group previously toyed with idiosyncrasy to make a statement and introduce a sound that would shape ODA, the new EP finds them relentless and uncompromising.

Opening track, ‘Hounds Tooth’, sets the scene with organ chords ringing in glitch-like and swelling into a break section for a repeated leading bass line. The progression that exits the track is an impressive display of chord-play and the textures provided by the synths whets the appetite for an impending verse. This is satisfied as Arrow (Potgieter) cuts in with ‘Rap Miasma’. His opening verse feels like it still belongs to ‘Hounds Tooth’ because the mood is altered completely, yet appropriately, with dreamy chords and a warm sub beneath them for his second and pitched down verse.  This is where Cruz (Keke Mahlelebe) enters and the process is repeated for him. Cruz owns a demanding presence on this offering, testament to fruitful practice and well earned confidence.

‘Three Minds’, a personal highlight, holds the number three spot on the playlist. The production is on point with the solid, unavoidably rap-friendly beat and bass line combination. The clincher is the sparsely used, off-kilter shaker-sample that rings above the verses adding an ingenious touch to the production value. The lyrics, while certainly bearing significant meaning for the MC delivering them, are often so vivid and obscure in nature, that the flow with which they’re delivered and the way the words are moulded together with wit and rhythm are the main source of intrigue for the listener. Interpretation comes second and the listener has free reign to construct their own idea of what’s being portrayed.

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This is Arrow’s forte and he shines with his verses that twist and turn effortlessly through passages such as, “Wrist watch illusion / if you’re keepin time here / who could tell the time keepers ‘Cover up your limbs when the clouds clear’? / Not from around here / bows stagger in the gun smoke / don’t throw ladders at the puff adder / He’s genie with the riddles (okay) / selling old magic with the skittles, gold talisman for riddim / Hey, hey, hey / suffocate your train face / puffing on a laced blade / half-man-monkeys in the mist”.  It’s also great to see that the “O-D-A ‘til I D-I-E” sentiment is still alive and well; “Back then we used to rap about spaceships / still rappin spaceships / Fuck it, I’m a shape shifter”… “You could be the queen, but until then I’m a rapper ‘til I cave in.” Cruz concludes with his verses which ooze and confidence with snippets of less obscure and more referential lyrics than those of Arrow, but equally as intriguing; “Book storm-proof / second-hand sale / get his clothes off a dusty old rhinestone rail”.

‘Wesley From The Shining’ enters more familiar ODA territory with a spooky pop culture reference. Again, Arrow and Cruz share the track, alternating verses and meeting for the unison hook, “Kingdom / damsels / garden of truth / sandals / Darth Vader / in charge of the booth”. ‘36’, the shout-out track of the EP, follows, and Push Push (Nicci St Bruce) makes her first appearance. She joins Cruz for the hook, which opens the track, in a salute to their DJ, 36 (Matt Hichens). Stretching just over a minute in length, ‘Andy Wormhole’ serves as an interlude that doesn’t necessarily feel out of place, but could have been more adventurous.

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‘Here Be Dragons’ is another stand out as the production takes a less rap-centric direction. The intro perfectly sets up Push Push’s opening sung verse, which has a nostalgic quality to it, as the combination of her tone, accent and phrasing throws back to tracks like 3 Of A Kind’s ‘Babycakes’. It’s here that one can see where ODA separates itself from other self-referential and context-conscious rap crews like Boyz n Bucks and Driemanskap. ODA differs in that their sound is isolated from the ‘scene’ by which they’re surrounded. Their subject matter is personal and, therefore, offers an authenticity that broods from deep within the lyrics and production. It’s only the slightest referential hints that tie them to a certain time and place. ‘Bloodwing’ brings the rapping of the EP to a close. All three MCs feature and it’s a great climax with aggressive, albeit short-lived, overtones, flowing swiftly into confident closer, ‘Jungle Eyes’.

Summer Slow Shit markets itself as a rap album. And as just that, it achieves commendable heights. That being said, it doesn’t maintain themes as strongly as Godspeed Thundercat did, but a tangible sense of self-awareness suggests that this was a conscious decision. Rapping is what this crew are good at and this EP is testament to that fact. Summer Slow Shit is likely to translate to a live setting with far greater finesse than their debut full-length, so keep your eye out for the next ODA show.

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