"PRYS DIE HERE GOD VIR BLOWJOBS!"
Fred de Vries
It took The Buckfever Underground nine years to come up with a classic album. With Saves they can now join the canon of great idiosyncratic South African music that stretches from Koos Kombuis’s Niemandsland via Lesego Rampolokeng, Kalahari Surfers and Felix Laband to Benguela.
Dominated by bleak soundscapes, desolate piano and largely spoken English and Afrikaans lyrics, Saves has an uncomfortable edge to it; fragile and exquisite, like a William Kentridge painting or a Diane Arbus photograph. But there’s enough humour, blasphemy and wordplay to keep the razorblades in the drawer.
Take Psalms en Gesange with its highly unusual chorus of “prys die here god vir blowjobs, jubel sy naam vir email”. The song kicks off with doomy bass tones. But the impending dread is cleverly negated by cheesy keyboards and off-beat drums, which push the song towards awkward reggae. Then vocalist Toast Coetzer grabs the mike, and like a gothic dominee from Heilbron neatly sums up all the things we have to be grateful for: “lugpos, padkos, manna in die honger, ’n lig in die chaos, nes Mohamed, Buddha, Mao, Mandela, Rudi Koertzen”. And that’s only the first verse, still many subjects to go until we reach that moment of detached release.
There are references to the white laagers, broken promises and our friends who’ve chosen to live overseas. “Die son verdwyn en ons braai oor ’n droom/ Uit die huis speel die tunes van ’n CD-ROM/ en ons dink aan ons vriende in die strate van London, Toronto, Seoul, Sydney.”
If ever an album managed to reflect these uncertain times, it’s Saves. Or more appropriate: this is a continuation of J.M. Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K and Karel Schoeman’s The Promised Land; a journey through a world under siege, where people roam around in convoys after towns and villages have been deserted. This is a very South African album. Its Southafricaness is hidden in words and phrases like skollies, laager, tannies, bergies, stronk, kak. It’s in the melancholic sounds that conjure up images of an icy sea, dusty towns, sad liquor stores and endless drives through the highveld past veldfires and squatter camps. There’s a touch of kitsch that refers to the faux Tuscan gated communities. It’s imbedded in the subconscious use of kinderliedjies, nature books and political speeches.
Save is the product of an autonomous band that cares very little about fame or airplay. The songs only vaguely resemble pop tunes. There are riffs and chords and rhythms - even the occasional violin, French horn and vocal harmony. But lacking production gloss, the pieces have a visceral quality, as if you can grab, squeeze and twist their various components as if the were muscles or strands of hair. And towering above this abstract architecture of sound is Toast Coetzer. Toast the cynic, Toast the melancholic, Toast the preacher, Toast the observer, Toast the brave, Toast the traveller, Toast the coward, Toast the lover, Toast the poet.
The eleven songs take less than fifty minutes, which is exactly right for a ‘pop’ cd. There’s no time for boredom, there are no fillers. The Buckfevers understand issues like sequence. As a whole, the album has an immaculate narrative, maintaining the suspense from the first roll of the snare to the fading guitar chords.
If all the songs were just soundscapes and parlando (like the previous two albums) it wouldn’t have worked. But this time the Buckfevers give us the much needed relief. We have Psalms & Gesange with its blowjob chorus. Lewenslied starts with some gentle harmonies and has Toast actually singing, in a shaky Bonny Prince Billy kinda way.
And then there is the third trump card. I Want To Do Die On A Tuesday Afternoon features a screaming Toast, begging for some kind of release, lost between cynicism and despair, as if God has withheld him his blowjob for too long. Guitars drown in feedback, the bass rumbles in two chord punk rock fashion, and Toast yells that he wants to die. Preferably on a Tuesday afternoon, without a wife – “or at least without one that doesn’t love me.”
And eventually the chilling joke is on us. “i want to die wearing these same shoes/ & my favourite t-shirt too/ i don’t wanna kill myself/ i’d rather let someone else/ 20,000 people can’t be wrong.”
Fred also put us at no. 9 in his Top 10 albums of 2007:
9) BUCKFEVER UNDERGROUND – SAVES
Fave Track: Psalme en Gesange.
By far the best South African album of the year. Great poetic lyrics, controlled playing, idiosyncratic. Excellent, but for the crappy arty cover.