Every now and again, a group pushes the musical boundaries and comes bursting up with something really beautiful. Second2Last have done this on Babble-on, their second album.
Their sound is a fresh and natural mix of spoken word*, leisurely but passionate poetry and fleshy backing sounds. The result is a global style hip hop, produced with a scrunchy touch to the sound and deep bass that's octaves away from the high female vocals, all glued together by the laconic spoken word or rap. Second2Last have learned from those whose work they acknowledge on "Roll call", and moved forward.
The CD begins with a reading of Genesis 1.1 and is really a collaborative concept album - an exploration of human separations and communications, economic, cultural and spiritual, as the double entendre-laden title suggests.
The insistent political messages on Babble-on often tackle social injustice (from a black American viewpoint) and artistic hardship (being a poet is tough since the free verse market crashed last century). But unlike so many musicians with a protest message, Second2Last don't reek too badly of self pity, or descend into chip on the shoulder machismo. That's the good bit - the gorgeous, sexy, tuneful truth telling. These Americans aren't the ones who start stupid wars, or throw their weight around on the Jerry Springer show.
But unfortunately, self indulgence makes the album less listenable than it could be. Second2Last just lay their artiness on way too thick sometimes. Every now and again the flow of music is interrupted by an annoying little "skit". These supposedly humorous interludes feature someone with an irritating accent. The first time you hear them, they're intriguing at best. A one-off thing perhaps, which would work as part of a workshopped New York live stage performance. But by the third time you play the album, you're scrambling for the skip button. The gentle satire and humour embedded in their music on tracks like "Shepherds theory" is so much more interesting.
There's a solution of course! Dump the whole CD onto your hard drive, delete about six tracks (the ones I omitted from the clips on the left), and enjoy (I'm unsure if this is legal.) The rest of what's there is really exciting and it's a shame to let a few minutes of narcissistic noise spoil an entire CD.
*Spoken word: a form of poetry (in this case) designed to be performed live, often with a political edge or social message. Some other spoken word is more like speech making, and may have standup comedy elements.
(This album can be purchased via this online store - it is probably not available in SA record shops.)
- Jean Barker
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