The best live act in Cape Town

Review: Lark, Gong is Struck (2012)

Lark are one of South Africa’s greatest bands EVER. I really believe they deserve to be world famous; Inge Beckmann is a most awesome frontispiece[1], and their live act is the most powerful thing you’ll see. They released their fifth album, Gong is Struck, in July.

One of many crappy pics I took at the lauch with my phone. If you click on it, it will get a bit bigger.

The CD starts with 3:49 minutes of ghostly voices and sounds, to put you in a suitable frame of mind. Think an undersea documentary by Wim Wenders, or a scene in a David Lynch movie where Patricia Arquette wakes up in the desert and someone’s taken all her stuff. It’s called Long Mantra.

After that it’s straight into a banging bassy drum track. Drums seem to be the favourite instrument in this album. Lark’s two guitarists, Fuzzy Ratcliffe and Paul Rez, joined Sean ou Tim on drumming duty for a couple of songs at the launch, playing congos (I think) over their guitars, which was very awesome.

Apparently I didn’t get a picture of that, so have this characteristic Beckmann pose instead.

You won’t have to wait long for Beckmann to showcase her amazing voice. Ascending starts with a very typical Lark verse, chanted lyrics over electronic bass and drums, followed by an operatic chorus that ascends up the scale. By the third chorus there are so many harmonies and descants it’s impossible to tell what’s human voice and what’s a string instrument. I had invited a friend to come along to the gig, and when this song was played I looked over at him with relief, because I knew he’d be completely in awe. I grinned stupidly at him, because that’s how good Lark are.

The first verse:

Send her in without a shield.
Break her heart, she wicked tender.
Strike her down with heavy sword.
Ask her hand, but take two fingers.

The lyrics aren’t easy to hear, and it takes a couple of listenings before my brain bothered to pick them up. When I started hearing snatches I was getting the throneroom in the castle in Game of Thrones. I was like, weird. But then I listened properly to the second verse:

They are sad beauty fools.
We should hang their skin for drying.
Matt as white, clean as fins.
They are rare as eggs for dragons.

Cue awesome vocal acrobatics.

That’s right! Game of Thrones fan fiction!

Here’s the third verse, which is a little murkier but still has the same atmosphere:

We shan’t bow, kiss their feet.
They were bred for our destruction.
Sow them out, cast them in.
Fires fit for two-faced devils.

Skyrocketing vocals. Electro bass. Drums. It’s a really cool song. Great opener.

Some flute action! Work it.

Seek to Find starts with a strong drum beat, but it’s more of a march, complete with spooky infantry-style whistling. It sort of White Walker/Night’s Watch fan fiction.

A long long time ago
There was a place we seemed to know
And with darkness it would grow
So we burned our extra light
To feed out shadows to the night
It was hungry and we were slight

But we dare not lose our sight
So we burned our extra light (x2)

So them people we would go
Crooked paupers in a row
And the walls we paint our names
To find our way back home
Except we reached a murderous gorge
So with words a bridge we forged

But we dare not stir the lay
Moving quiet across the grey (x2)

Fly, fly and dream, fly and dream, fly and dream (repeated)

I may have mistranscribed some of those lyrics, it’s difficult to make them out.

Then comes Aflatus, which is a really doozy. My boyfriend Simon hilariously misheard ‘we are now aflatus’ as ‘three hours later’, like someone very angrily telling a story about their day.

‘Aflatus’ is a sharp, powerful force of inspiration that an artist is unable to explain or control. It’s from the Latin term derived from Cicero, apparently, meaning ‘to blow upon/toward’, from ‘ad’ (to) and ‘flatus’ (blowing/breathing).

In part, this song reminds me of the early stuff, with some cool doppler-effect electro bass. That’s not a thing, I just made it up.

Stole the Moon brings in some keyboard and strings, and has one of the most catchy refrains on the album: ‘If we could live forever, we would be like gods.’ Sing it! Demons, shadows and darkness recur. There is a deceptively simple-looking music video for this song, I really dig the ending:

Next up is a cover of the theme song of that ’80s TV show Shaka Zulu: We Are Growing, originally by Margaret Singana. At the launch Beckmann said the sangoma in the series used to ‘freak her the fuck out’ as a kid. I don’t remember ever actually watching the show, although I have since found out that a lot of my peers watched it. I guess that must have been when my family didn’t have TV. The only thing I know about it is that the guy who played Shaka, Henry Cele, was a goalkeeper for Zulu Royals (now AmaZulu) before he started acting, with the cool nickname ‘Black Cat’.

I must admit to a love-hate relationship with this track. At first it made me feel as awkward as I did when I first saw the warthog-tooth necklace Beckmann wore at the launch, or the hordes of wildebeest that raced down a hill on the projector screen behind her during the song.

Herds of Wildebeest sweeping majestically down the mountainside (pop culture reference alert).

On the other hand, it is a damn catchy tune.

I can’t deny that I’m up and dancing whenever Hog Hoggidy Hog play their cover of Johnny Clegg’s ‘Great Heart’, but that’s because of my nostalgia for the Jock of the Bushveld movie. Even though when I saw a bit of it a couple of years ago I was pretty horrified.

I suppose one of the side effects of nostalgia is that our brain disregards the negative associations of the thing being remembered. In the case of ‘We Are Growing’ that would be my discomfort with the representation and exoticisation of Zulu and South African culture in the series, and the show’s ideological and political motives, which are as diverse as the groups that uncovered them.

There’s an interesting article on it here. We’ll talk about it over a beer sometime.

I don’t have much to say about I am Zeus, which comes next, apart that I’m wholly in agreement with the sentiment ‘Bring me reason, bring me wine’.

After that comes Two Wolves, which is another goodie, although three wolves would have been a much more powerful image.

Trick missed there, Beckmann! It’s a story song, which is one of my favourite types of song. (The best example being The Raconteurs ‘Carolina Drama’. Right in the feels.) Also, it indicates a preoccupation with wolves, which explains why Beckmann recommended The Grey (Liam Neeson wolf thriller) to the audience at the launch as ‘a fucking great movie that everyone should see’. (I watched it yesterday, it’s a pile of crap. Review coming soon.)

Poor weaker, smaller wolf. It appears he is never let out of the dungeon! I suppose that’s what you need to do to survive this cruel world as a woman. Here are the lyrics, they’re pretty cool, but obviously sound better sung.

I got two wolves
I got two wolves inside me (x2)

One be the strong one
When I feed it some some
Other be the weak one
I got two wolves
I got two wolves inside (x2)

One be the big one
When I drinking my red rum
He be the taller one that I let out
One be the small one
Locked in the dungeon
He be the frail one
Without a tail gun
Da da da da da da da  

I had a dream
I was driving with a fiend
We saw the beast on the edge of the road
Road that knew no end
We stopped the car
And the beast jumped in
And I knew then
It was a bad thing

I felt his breath on my back
I felt his paws around my neck
And so I grabbed shut his jaw
Threw him out that door (x2)

Rar! (x4)

I got two wolves
I got two wolves inside (x2)

One be the big one when I drinking my red rum
He be the taller one that I let out
One be the small one
Locked in the dungeon
He be the frail one
Without a tail gun
Da da da da da da da

The last song on the album is He Not a Man, which is a darker, more fuzzy, electronic track. It’s pretty cool, reminds me of Portishead and Felix Laband.

Lark’s 2006 album Razbliuto has sort of a clockwork rhythm, with drum ‘n’ bassy undertones and a playful, Slavic vibe to it. Gong is Struck is darker, wolfier, castlier album, in which ‘We Are Growing’ stands out awkwardly, like a Night’s Watchman at a Lannister banquet. Still definitely worth getting, and if you haven’t seen Lark play live, do not miss their next gig.

1. I propose this as a non-gendered replacement for frontman.

Author: ProjectJennifer

Project Jennifer was one of the most complex, expensive, and secretive intelligence operations of the Cold War at a cost of about $800 million ($3.6 billion in 2012 dollars).

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