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Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za

Vermaak | Entertainment > Musiek | Music > Resensies | Reviews

With Bonjour Ashtray Electric cruises onto the scene

Annie Klopper - 2009-05-22

“Give South African rock a chance!” seems like a redundant statement nowadays, but it didn’t seem all that strange almost ten years ago when I made it in the music column of my school newspaper. Back then, my friends and I could debate for hours on the quality and potential of the South African music scene with always one or two sceptics criticising the quality of locally produced rock music.

Today, however, the blossoming South African music industry has no one questioning the quality and popularity of what we are able to deliver. In fact, it recently dawned on me that I haven’t reviewed an international band in the past three years. Somewhere along a very productive production line of local albums my attention simply got fixed on giving much-deserved exposure to exciting South African releases.

Not only are we spoilt for choice when it comes to local music, the competitiveness of the industry is, in many cases, spoiling us with outstanding quality and strong, splendidly produced debuts. To be able to compete in such a climate of numerous impressive debuts, artists must now rocket-launch themselves on to the scene, armed to the teeth with unique marketing, thorough publicity, professional production, sharp artwork, striking photos, and (let’s not forget) stellar tunes.

Along comes Ashtray Electric with their debut album Bonjour following their EP The Dave Sessions. After having seen these guys perform live a good few times I am more than willing to give them the time of day and am not disappointed with the album. But being the spoilt South African music lover I am, at the same time I cannot say that I am blown away. Everything about this album is good, but greatness featuring only sporadically, tempts you to expect more. “Quite Overstared”, the single off the Bellville Rock City compilation, is such an example. It had us all drooling for more and still has my feet tapping – even after being quite overplayed. Unfortunately only a few songs on the album manage to compete with “Quite Overstared” for the position of favourite.

The songs

The elegant “New.One” does well in setting up a vibe, but fails to move beyond being just a nice intro. “Seasons” grows on you almost too easily and therefore might run the danger of boring you too soon. Then along comes “Gallop”, a catchy tune deserving honourable mention due to the surprising energy with which it suddenly throws you off a charging horse’s back, dragging you along the rocky road of its catchy sing-along melody. My personal favourite, however, remains the simply beautiful “Lia” which pulls the nostalgia chords like an old photograph suddenly rediscovered upon opening a drawer. And if beautiful nostalgia is your thing (with a touch of emo), you will love “Too Young”, but if you've recently suffered any sort of heavy emotional trauma, I would skip it, or at least hide any sharp objects that might be used in aiding self-mutilation.

The last song on the album, “When sex becomes a sport”, sticks in your head for hours, like the jingle of a television commercial. Whether this means the song is very irritating or very good is open to debate, but I’m pretty sure it will be one the crowd loudly requests at shows. I for one have already caught it like an ear bug, singing it in the queue at the grocery store like an idiot. It has the definite makings of a radio hit.

You will probably like Bonjour and you can easily recommend it to your younger brother and convince your older sister to give it a listen too. The album has an accessible sound and even though the band cannot be accused of being commercial (having been dubbed indie by many), this accessibility prevents the album from either ever lifting off from or crashing to the ground. Rather, it flows nicely, cruising like an automatic vehicle on an afternoon drive, hooting only now and again and sometimes running the risk of backfiring, but never stopping or breaking down. Depending on your mood, this may be either a very good or very irritating thing.

Lead us to see

What makes Ashtray Electric’s debut stand out of the crowd, is the documentary Lead me to sea on the DVD that accompanies the audio CD and sports bonus footage consisting of the music video for “Quite Overstared” as well as the “making of the video”.

While it seems premature to have a documentary accompany a debut (rather than, say, a greatest hits album), one must admit that it gives the band a bit more of an edge. It is shot handsomely by The African Attachment, which was also responsible for the 12 Mile Stone documentary on Bellville Rock City. It introduces you to this very likeable group of guys and creates an interesting backdrop to their music (even though I think it does too much in forcing a “diepseun” image of the lead singer, Andre).

The video for “Quite Overstared” is a winner. Moreover, one cannot complain about a beautiful backstage peek like the one given. (And when I watched the “making of the video” bit, I canned myself at the silly remarks by Thieve’s Philip Erasmus who features as an extra in the “Quite Overstared” video.)

The package

With regard to the design of the album, once again it’s not bad. The front cover leans towards being boring, but overall it has a sleek vibe with sexy photos by the talented Mr Liam Lynch (famous for promo shots of bands like Fokofpolisiekar, Foto Na Dans and Die Heuwels Fantasties).

The verdict

I like this new breed of Bellville boys, even though the album won’t make it to high rotation on my iPod. I am, however, looking forward to what experience and extensive touring might add to the mix in the future. Not lacking in talent and potential, with Bonjour Ashtray Electric convinced me to keep my eye on them; eagerly staring over in their direction, I’m waiting for more.

Photo: Adriaan Louw