Album Review: South African Band Presents Compelling Vista of Indie-Pop on “12 Views of Beatenberg”

South Africa’s darlings on indie-pop, Beatenberg, are back after 4 years with glistening and serenading grooves from Cape Town. The South African trio, made up of guitarist Matthew Field, Robin Brink on percussion and Ross Dorkin on bass, follow up the highly successful major label debut, The Hanging Gardens of Beatenberg (2014) which exposed the world to their idiosyncratic approach to fusion and also global success with songs like Pluto, Rafael and Ithaca. Their latest album, 12 Views of Beatenberg presents a map charting the steady growth in their sound and aesthetic as the boys from Cape Town move towards global pop dominance.


12 Views of Beatenberg cover art

12 Views of Beatenberg is a 15-track lens of idyllic indie-pop that the trio use to probe and prod their lives as young South Africa musicians. It is built from the same sonic base as their previous record with a solid blues and soul spine with idiosyncratic fusion of jazz scatting, warped harmonies, alternative electronic grooves and blissfully concrete imagery. Indeed, from the collage album cover, with its doodle-inspired creative direction, you can discern the bands approach to its music-making. The title of the record was inspired by Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mt Fuji , a series of 19th century paintings presenting different perspectives to the iconic Mount Fuji. Beatenberg apply this philosophy of finding new ways to see and represent an ever-present “view”.

The 48-minute long album released on December 14, 2018 via Island Records, opens with Full Length Mirror, a swinging song with temperate jazz and blues elements as the band calls for deep introspection. It features hard bop like drums that phase their way through the record, slightly shifting the indie-pop vibe of the song, in typical Beatenberg fashion, yet still feels warm and intimate. Camera, the lead single and one of the stand out cut on this tape best illustrate this ethnographic use of pop fusion on this records with a mellow drum line of clicks and claps that carpet the melodies that scat their way along the song, with Matthew Field’s waxy falsetto verses gliding along. The song is masterfully crafted to feel distant and syncopated at times, yet is still quite warm and welcoming to the listeners. Thematically, the song reinforces the importance of discovering and sharing new ways of seeing as they wax lyrical to the subject, telling him/her to “look at the camera”. Even the music video is a tryptic, offering different side to band as the go about looking through a camera.

Ode to Berg wind is another stand out track on this tape with the sound snaking in and out various skins as the song bubbles along. What starts as a hollow beep, tracking a filtered click over moody chords, simmers with a hypnotic bliss that explodes with excitement once a Gqom like dance beat is slipped into the song. Listening to this feel like like a drive up a picturesque road where one sharp left turn suddenly reveals a breathtaking vista. The song speaks to the bands power and dexterity to maintains one’s attention with various subtle moments of sonic engineering that gels together shadowy and gleaming sounds into one magnificent orchestra.

Altogether, 12 views of Beatenberg is a very coherent listen. The record has a velvety approach despite addressing the somewhat nature of love and loss as well as reflecting on Cape Town, South Africa. Life in the city as experience by the band is vignetted into little moments that are sprinkled into the music. This comes out of the nuanced sonic signature of the record as Beatenberg’s mastery of fusion offers them the chance to create indie-pop with a subtle universal appeal. Aphrodite for instance, featuring TRESOR, is more folk-inspired and sits somewhere between a gentle bop and a difficult encounter with unrequited love, with a mellow mood that swims with those highlife synth guitar chords scales that glisten through the song.

12 Views of Beatenberg is an intricately layered record, that allows for an intimate consumption of nuanced and expansive perspectives about life and love and loss. The album illustrates a welcome growth in the bands process where rhythm and melody are crafted to feel similar and intimate despite coming from divergent sources. Indeed, the record is a massive statement of intent from the boys from Cape Town and will surely open them up to global pop dominance.


Written by Hakeem Adam

Image Credit: via Artist.

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