Albums / EPs, Reviews

Album Review: PUSSY SLAP – PUSSY SLAP EP

The PUSSY SLAP EP is yet another symptom of Cape Town-native David Thorpe’s musical…

 

The PUSSY SLAP EP is yet another symptom of Cape Town-native David Thorpe’s musical schizophrenia. Here, the indefatigable frontman follows his nose into unfettered garage-rock turf and returns with five enjoyable tracks to show for it. That this venture will not come as too much of a surprise is owed largely to the hodgepodge character of this city’s guitar-music scene and its familiarity with Thorpe’s other relevant projects in Beach Party and – perhaps more fittingly – the Dollfins. The EP zones in on the genre’s sonic heirlooms and manipulates them into catchy yet forgettable cuts, culminating in an agreeable foray into a new style for Thorpe. Principally, however, PUSSY SLAP marks a step in a particular direction; one in which this city’s bands should follow suit. 

I’d be lying if I said my mother didn’t read all my work. But this time, I hesitated, concerned that I’d offend her with the name of this EP. Now, the antithesis of punk-rock would have been Thorpe deciding against the PUSSY SLAP moniker for fear of offending the mothers of those that critique his music — but his going ahead with it still does not make it a good title. The titular pussy-mania of late (see Pussy Riot, Perfect Pussy) both informs and confounds. But the shock-value of these names is befitting of what these bands represent in their music and politics. Indeed, sexually-offensive idiocy has historically been rife in punk (see Butthole Surfers, Circle Jerks) but hilarious in the context of, for example, Keith Morris’ song-writing and outlandish sense of humour. PUSSY SLAP finds grounding in neither of these areas, nor does it attempt to do so. 

The title also has the unfortunate effect of creating hope that Thorpe’s inclinations would draw him closer to punk, aurally speaking. One is thus set up for an admittedly limited disappointment upon realising that the music itself technically remains garage-adjacent. This observation is not made pedantically (any Gun Club or Cramps fan knows that punk isn’t about time signatures) so much as it is intended to highlight a discord between the expectations the name creates and the music itself. The relative let-down is short-lived as mentioned, with the enticing warmth created by the opening chords of ‘Drive’ negotiating the listener’s trust with promises of something far grander than a free-download EP. Rattlesnake tambourines slither around Thorpe’s deadpan delivery. Cleverly, the song ends too soon and gets more attention for it, giving way to the inoffensive ‘Give Me Your Time’. This second track is a melodic, stark call-out to the genre’s rudimentary Seedsian roots in both aesthetic and lyrical presentation. 

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Midway through, ‘Stop Me’ displays Thorpe’s most commendably innovative writing on the EP and the closest to the contemporary garage/punk intersection championed by the late Jay Reatard. One can’t help but wish the song was recorded with a more rambunctious feel – a bit more chaos would have rendered it a veritable assault. The positively Ty Segall-esque (circa Goodbye Bread) ‘Oh Yeah’ doesn’t put its ‘ohs’ and ‘yeahs’ in all the right places so much as it builds an entire song out of them. The sarcasm that shrouds this song is its selling point; although, even if that’s lost on an audience, the lascivious guitars will do the trick. Closing track ‘Best Friends’ employs a failsafe formula and wraps things up cheerfully. Wielding its catchiest riff, the song is the EP’s earworm number. 

Overt derivation in this corner of the rock n’ roll atlas is imminent, but individualism inevitably breeds unpredictability and tends to pervade sound: this is what makes exciting rock n’ roll songs.  Too much of the EP relies on the genre’s staples and trademarks. It thus loses sight of what is most important in the crude wing of the crude wing: a strong identity. Boisterous individualism is not merely encouraged; it is a necessity that prevents fading away against the over-saturated backdrop of thousands of kids from around the world making this type of music out of their parents’ garages and putting it on the internet. Thorpe’s charisma, knack for catchy songcraft and obsession with basslines provide personality but not enough to counteract the predictability of these songs.

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PUSSY SLAP’s meaning in a broader context is more significant than the sum of its parts. David Byrne stressed that when creating a ‘scene’, bands should be permitted to play whatever music they wanted at their shows without promoters lobbying for crowd-friendly music. The near-blank canvas of Cape Town’s gig scene that sees a mixed-bag of bands coming to play together seems to provide this climate. That said, we need more musical polymaths randomly spawning alter-egos and dropping EPs of raw, grassroots rock n’ roll. The more competitive it gets, the more the music will improve.

In spite of its flaws, the EP’s spontaneity and the excitement of its initiative in the context of the South African microcosm deserve a wealth of praise. PUSSY SLAP shows promise as Thorpe’s more primal solo outlet. Rather than fill the void created by the disbanding of local heroes The Future Primitives, PUSSY SLAP, judging by this EP alone, seems more likely to encourage other acts to attempt to do so. We’ll just have to wait until the LP comes out to be sure of Thorpe’s intentions. But who knows; he might be onto something new next week.

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