Back in 2007/8, I walked into a beer tent in Hermanus to see a friend’s brother’s new band that we have now…
Back in 2007/8, I walked into a beer tent in Hermanus to see a friend’s brother’s new band that we have now come to know as Ashtray Electric. After their performance I stayed on to see the band that was up next – Taxi Violence. That show was my first real introduction to rock music. The show was enthralling, raw and unrelenting and it’s safe to say the band claimed an indelible spot in my memory that night. Fast forward to today, Tenfold is the 5th album to be independently released by Taxi Violence and it leaves me conflicted.
The release of Tenfold happens to coincide with a ten-year milestone for the existence of Taxi Violence. This is by no means something to scoff at. Back then, the South African rock scene was comprised of the likes of Crash Car Burn Lite (AKA Tweak), Wickhead and a bunch of Blink 182/Green Day derivatives (read: Finkelsteins) with the exception of Arno Carstens’ first solo effort, Another Universe. Considering this dreary state of affairs, Taxi Violence’s emergence was almost necessary, a point that is vindicated by their subsequent self-establishment as an integral part of the South African rock context.
However, over the course of their ten-year career, Taxi Violence have become renowned for ‘music for the waist down’. It’s a type of balls-to-the-wall, whiskey-soaked rock ’n roll with the obligatory hints of blues – and it’s at this point of cliché where my inner turmoil lies.
On the one hand we are presented with an album that is not short of some good songs. ‘Fuck Off and Fry’ is the type of hard persistent aggression that ought to be the staple of any out-and-out rock band. While, on the other hand, ‘Black Soul’ exhibits the band’s ability to show off at least some emotional complexity while still not straying too far from the conventional rock template. ‘Lazy Day’ has George van der Spuy pining à la Josh Homme in a smoky dulcet tone. Further, add to this Rian Zietsman’s crafty guitar solos which work so well in tandem and you’re left with perhaps the second best track on the album.
Still, it doesn’t feel as if the band is doing anything new. The production might be faultless, the bass lines impeccable and the general tone might be close to capturing their transcendent live stage-presence (you’ll never quite capture that). But in a world where music and much else is premised on innovation, how can one contextualize it? A group of four guys playing “rock” music, who have been for the past ten years without altering the template much at all and appear to be dead-set on doing so until their bodies relent, is an idea that is so hard to not think of as anything other than trite.
But perhaps this is what makes them happy. Churning out albums to give a band a reason to tour isn’t such a bad idea and at least keeps the band interested, one would hope. But this reeks of complacency and is unlikely to be the source of the kind of magic found on an album like Untie Yourself.
These concerns are somewhat offset and confirmed at the same time by the remarkable album closer ‘Stuck in a Rut’. The track is both an illustration and an interrogation of social paralysis and may serve as a broader metaphor for the position Taxi Violence might find themselves in at present. With Van Der Spuy beckoning melancholically “What am I to do?/ By myself/A new day breaks/ And its always the same/ From the sunrise, ‘til my eyes close/ Will I change?… I am stuck in a rut for good?”. It’s a significant moment of critical reflexivity, an intelligent piece of songwriting that encapsulates feelings of ineptitude. More so, musically, the track is akin to a complex rock opera. With the deft addition of piano and some additional atmospherics, the track’s production is mature and far surpasses anything else on the album, providing a flash of a progression which could be something to build upon in the future.
Consider the last ten years I haven’t even been out of High School for that long. Back in 2004, Linkin Park had just been named one of the best bands of the new millennium, Facebook was still ‘The Facebook’, Britney Spears was married to Kevin Federline and hadn’t shaved her head bald, while Radiohead parted ways with EMI and a few guys got together in Cape Town to form a band that we now know as Taxi Violence. My, how far we’ve come. Well, sort of.
Tenfold is a collection of 12 new tracks that are in no way too different from what one has come to expect from Van Der Spuy and the boys. It exhibits their uncompromising, independent ethic and does exhibit notable moments. But it’s not enough to get them out of the rut just yet.