By Lu Makoboka
Atmospheric bells, 808s and futuristic vocal effects – those are just some of the ways to identify an Okzharp and Manthe Ribane track as those seem to be the signature elements of their new album titled Closer/Apart. The synergy between the two has delivered an offering which actually questions what we traditionally know of ‘Pop’ music; as an audience, we’re taken on a rollercoaster ride of genre’s ranging from Trap, Afro-beat and Electronica influences all neatly wrapped up and presented to us as a Pop project. A round of applause certainly goes to the duo for challenging the boundaries and giving birth to an album that is rich with novelty, although it’s ultimately the execution of their efforts that raises some eyebrows.
The story of Okzharp and Manthe doesn’t even begin with music. London based producer Okzharp’s departure from LV can be seen as a blessing as that was a gateway to pursuit different projects like filmmaking. It was an idea about a film that brought the two together through photographer Chris Saunders. At the time Manthe Ribane was reputable for talents in fashion, art and dance, but only when Manthe was heard singing to herself sparked the inception of a musical relationship. Even though both artists are from South Africa, the title of their creation actually stemmed from their long-distance relationship during the making of ‘Closer Apart’. If they’re able to produce work that is sonically fascinating while they’re apart, we could only imagine what could happen if the duo collaborates within the same space.
“W U @”, opens up the album in a stellar fashion with Burial-like pads, textures and vocal processing which creates a spacey environment, and simultaneously putting Manthe’s pitch-shifted voice at centre stage. It’s not just the ambient environment that is well-constructed, but also the anticipation leading up to the drop, and literally out of nowhere we’re introduced to these head bumping drums with the ability to swing our bodies back and forth by virtue of the 808 and hi-hat pattern. Unfortunately,y the intro is among the high points of Closer Apart, and I say unfortunately because there are 13 tracks in total. Off-putting elements of this record that seem to be recurring are some of the pseudo-deep lyrics and themes in various tracks. Specifically on ‘Make U Blue’ and ‘Never Say Never’. “Okay I get it, I will ever say never!” – Something I wanted to shriek as the phrase “Never Say Never” is repeated for a good two minutes. On the subject of ‘never’, the following track ‘Never Thought’ we see Manthe redeem herself through her storytelling abilities over a very Downtempo-like catchy beat. What makes the track quite interesting is the juxtaposition between the title of the track versus the events within the story; it almost sounds as if the person being described is pessimistic and doubtful, yet this seems to be happening on both sides as she ironically repeats “I never thought…”
Whether you’re in a club in Jo’burg or London, the Afro-beat of “Thaletsa” is certainly one of the gems in the album that is sure to light up any dance floor. A large chunk of Closer/Apart feels like a solitary listen, and “Thaletsta” is honestly a breath of fresh with its bouncy ‘riddim’ and African chants which reverberate in the background creating a… You know what, I can’t even go on it is just a song emanating good vibrations all around. It’s as if we’re literally told by Manthe that “We’re not ‘Dun’” as the following track titled ‘Dun’ continues with that up-tempo groove, but this time leaning away from Afro-beat and into some kind of House and Dancehall infusion. Regardless of what it is, it’s sure to keep our bodies moving through a catchy but simple ‘riddim’. The 7th track ‘Blue Tigers’ falls in this category by virtue of the motion and swing of the drums, including the percussive works. The only difference is that Blue Tigers takes us to this dreamy and tranquil mood, almost feeling like “Thaletsta” on morphine. Okzharp and Manthe’s synergy with these percussive and ethnic-inspired styles truly exhibits the culmination of both their backgrounds personified in a sonic realm.
There were moments in the project where certain tracks would’ve been better off without vocals. “Tresasure Erasure” definitely isn’t one of them since this maybe Mante’s moment. Her vocals harmonize wonderfully creating this ‘ghost in the machine’ effect as her vocals sound so futuristic yet so angelic at the same time. This beauty of a track starts off with various ambient sounds, and where it goes from there surely surprises us all, turning into this electronic piece ornamented with saw waves and deep arpeggiators. “Tresasure Erasure” is definitely a closing to remember.
As mentioned earlier, Closer/Apart is more of a solitary listen making great for chilling and moments to unwind. The standout element of the album is the amazing production quality and the fact that the music they are making is pushing the boundaries of the genres commonly known regardless of tracks that lacked substance or weren’t just gripping.