Thor Rixon’s Tea Time Favourites is a study in exploration. Like Shared Folder before it, its title suggests….
Thor Rixon’s Tea Time Favourites is a study in exploration. Like Shared Folder before it, its title suggests a certain sense of practiced ease and familiarity. It’s almost an intimacy with the listener that’s warmly cultivated in between the notes of each track. Yet the mastery exuded is mostly ostensible. Rixon’s work here finds him not only orienting the hapless listener, but himself within a vast something. He has experimented with so many diverse mediums and styles that that the entire thing should feel diffuse, but every delightful element is precisely focused on a common centre. Seamlessly. It’s resulted in the rather perfect and private moment that is Tea Time Favourites.
Rixon has always been an artist prone to his various eccentricities and it’s allowed him to assume different forms within his music that are as baffling as they are captivating. It’s unquestionably endeared him to many and it brings a massive collaborative, yet personal element to Tea Time Favourites that is its ultimate strength. He has lured everyone from Inge Beckmann (Lark, Beast) to Umililo and Chantel Van T (Diamond Thug, LA.VI) to create some eclectic, addicting sounds within songs about fear, intimacy and fading love. There’s a subtlety in the way that the individual talents are melded; feeding off each other in much the same way that made Rixon’s EP, Shared Folder, so enjoyable.
The album’s first single, ‘Misery Belle’, bounces with a cool stuttering funk that, along with its video, has gone a long way in creating a buzz around the arrival of Tea Time Favourites. Inge Beckmann’s easy voice is painfully cool and soulful as they explore the complexities of fears that are both real and imagined. Rixon’s production manages to whirl Beckmann’s otherworldly vocals, surrounding a listener like the monsters from which they seem to be running. The track is purported as being upbeat and playful, and in many ways it is, but there’s an inexorable reality that’s creeping at every edge.
‘The Fisherman’ is the syrupy follow-up and its prowess in storytelling is in the music between Rixon’s reflections of a frustrated and hungry seafarer, breathing freely when unhampered by lyrics. The track’s metaphor could be one of the creative process, or perhaps of life itself. At the very least, it’s quite a delightful listen, with its tinkering and punctuations of a yelled “Get in my belly!” showing that Rixon is not short of creative impulses and quirks.
Though the robotic and primal implosions of ‘Hot Tuna Milk’ introduce the concept, the banging sounds of ‘Skepsel’ still manage to jar. It’s a demonstration of Rixon’s reach: like a robotic claw in an arcade game, he undauntedly grasps whatever prize he desires. Here, he employs the powers of the rousing Umlilo, who is ruthless: hitting every point with relished fervour in the kwaito trappings of the track. As “Wenzeni?” and horns energetically burst out of the mesh of the beat, it’s difficult to doubt ‘Skepsel’’s place on a packed dancefloor, and Thor Rixon has the gall to wear it all with convincing aplomb.
As bountiful as the first few songs are, the real pith of the LP is introduced in the tail-end of the Tea Time Favourites. Rixon seems to have an innate connection and understanding with nature – the ebb and flow of a distant tide, the frail howl of the wind – that seems to bleed into the final two songs. The sounds, clacking and calamitous, are chocked with meaning and manage to make a connection, like a seashell cupped to an ear too far from the tide. ‘Confidante’ finds Rixon sounding like Bill Callahan stuck in a smoky backroom, plotting a murder. A honeyed guitar frames some dark musings that gradually build to some sort of half-chant, “I want this to end well for both us.” Vocally beguiling, it emulates the feeling staring into bright light for too long, leaving an amorphous image seared into aching retinas.
Yet the real gem stone of the album is Rixon’s parting gift that is ‘Time Away’. Chantel van T’s voice is as silky and sultry as you’ll hear it and the melding of the two is wonderfully organic; neither is overwhelmed, consuming each other in equal and generous measures. The simple, seductive beat gently licks a cracked sensuality between the two love-weary protagonists as Chantel Van T imploringly croons, “Let’s leave our love alone put it on the backburner. Keep all the memories inside.” A sumptuous horn section finds a foothold mid-track between the sounds of cracking thunder. The warm tones of the trumpets and saxophones are as open and tender as the lovers are not. ‘Time Away’ has that rare, untenable thing in that it gets better upon each listen and pragmatism has never sounded so enchanting.
It’s remarkable to think that seven songs could qualify as an immersion, yet it is inescapable. So brief, so sweet – like a letter, penned and stamped, from a dear friend holding distant explorations that sound more wondrous and more wonderful because they’ve taken the time to pen it. A letter that will be re-read knowing that, each time, its words will take on different colours and shapes and imaginations. Tea Time Favourites is Rixon’s letter and he has surpassed himself: it exists apart from him and its collaborators, ever-blossoming. Sweeter only is that it holds such glorious prospects of the future of Thor Rixon’s music. But for now its story will be shared and tenderly re-read. Often over a hot drink or two.