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New Academics: City of Strange

Monday, January 21st, 2008

The New Academics are aptly named. Debut album ‘City of Strange’ is an intelligent urban confession, a trip into the joys and ills of modern society, relationships and global culture. Drawing heavily on musical styles ranging from The Streets, Rage Against the Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers to the classic funk acts of yesteryear, the honesty of this album is appealing.

New Academics

But there’s certainly something contemporary about this, a modish dip into musical innovation which boasts a host of genres, including metal, reggae, alternative rock, shoegaze and jazz.

New Academics – Change Up.
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Spiral is the tightest groove on the album, and a distinctly South African message echoes throughout the catchy chorus line (“We’ve got a long long way to go/and a hard hard line to tow”).

The guitar work of Dave Baudains is sublime: not too demanding or distorted, the notes fit right on every track, with special creative attention on Plastic Soul. Impressive rhythm performances by bassist Martin Labuschagne and Howie Combrink completes the instrumental act.

Cathartic sing-along Snakewoman is the group’s tribute to pop music, boasting a super-catchy repetitive tagline, “why don’t you love me, love me, love me?” Definitely a live set-opener.

However, the oft over-present rawness of emcee Joe Penn’s vocal style occasionally unties some of the album’s tightness. While known to be a talented saxophonist (as the unpretentious solos on Chromatic and Line will prove), the vocals can be somewhat jarring at times.

Perhaps, however, it’s because he has taken the bold step of not broadcasting his homegrown views in a ridiculous American accent. In fact, Penn’s grass-roots lyrical authenticity (“take a trip to the bar and get boozed”) is by far the most attractive part of this album, and a definite draw card for lovers of South African music.

Party-starter, road trip motivator and perhaps another progressive hallmark of a new generation of South African music styles, New Academics will be sure to draw the crowds with this classy contribution.

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  • Aside from a distinct, original emcee vocal style, frontman Joe Penn also plays saxophone, clarinet and piano.

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