Any listener who has seriously followed the morphing spectrum of UK bass over the past […]
Any listener who has seriously followed the morphing spectrum of UK bass over the past several years has likely noticed that LV is one of the scene’s most dependable outfits. True, the London trio’s name may not spread as far and wide as some of its internationally renowned contemporaries, but LV has always been associated with productions of the highest quality, balancing a proclivity for funky-inspired club cuts with a taste for South African house and a continued dedication to vocal collaborations. Last year’s Routes, the group’s debut full-length, was an accomplished gathering of LV’s unique aesthetic alongside vocalist Joshua Idehen, and while Sebenza takes a similar route—tapping a number of South African MCs to add their talents to the effort—the collaborations here largely leave something to be desired. Fortunately, the strengths of LV’s productions buoy Sebenza; even when the vocals fall short, the sonic constructions are still worth being marvelled at.
Between its debut and sophomore albums, LV seems to have shifted its focus slightly when it comes to incorporating vocalists. On Routes, Joshua Idehen‘s voice was treated as another texture—something to be mangled, twisted, and chopped to serve the productions as a whole, while being allowed to take the lead in appropriate pockets. On Sebenza, it seems the opposite is true; a more traditional producer-MC partnership is struck, leaving the rappers consistently at the forefront and being left to run largely untouched through their various hooks and verses. At times, this yields some exemplary results. Early on, Okmalumkoolkat (who first collaborated with the trio on 2010’s “Boomslang” single) strikes gold with “Animal Prints,” a playfully clever lyrical look at both sides of modern excess. Later, Okmalumkoolkat again hits the mark with a rapid-fire flow on “Safe and Sound,” which is preceeded by Capetown pair Ruffest‘s contribution to the similarly strong “Nothing Like.” The duo’s lyrics, while mostly incomprehensible as they alternate between languages, find a way to imbue the tune’s stuttering kicks and bouncing melodies with an enticing glide. Still, there are far more examples where the vocals really add nothing more than an unnecessary layer, and although LV’s continued emphasis on collaboration is admirable, one can’t help but feel that the proliferation of vocals on Sebenza is getting in the way of something greater.
Nevertheless, setting the role of these guest rappers aside for a moment, the underlying tracks on this LP are top notch. The aforementioned “Animal Skins” and “Safe and Sound” show LV at its best, crafting dizzyingly efficient jacks marked by dry percussion and flashes of thick, yet precise, chords and basslines. Even when LV stretches into sparser or slower territory, the trio’s talent still shines through, particularly on the lush, almost syrupy “Spitting Cobra,” the dark and heavy “Work” (which, it should be said, features the record’s most appropriate vocal contribution in the form of one repeated Spoek Mathambo line), and the half-time, G-funk-indebted closer, “Ultando Lwaka.” Through it all, a consistent level of quality is maintained—the drum tones are sharp, the basslines are perfectly weighted, and the chords and melodies are infectious. Furthermore, LV executes it all with the kind of shine and exactness that only veterans can.
Sebeza is definitely not a blemish on LV’s discography, but it also isn’t a high point. While it presents many tracks worth praise, it lacks the masterful touch that made Routes such an instant standout. In the end, the concept of pulling exclusively from South African rappers may have not proven to yield the best results, but with production chops this well honed, it would be hard for LV to create anything that wasn’t at least worth a spin or two.