OUTSIDE THE NEW (OTN) got together in 2009 "as the result of college, long standing friendships or getting to know each other through the live circuit in South Africa" and by 2010 they had already been labeled as one of South Africa's most exciting new bands following the release of their EP ‘Follow The White Rabbit’, and winning a Standard Bank Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstow.
Released in early July this year, Tabula Rasa is the band's first full length album and represents "a clean slate", a new start. Talking to guitarist Ian Wishart and Vocalist Duane Arthur, they explain; "the band had been together for some time and were not convinced that the material was an accurate reflection of what we wanted to portray to the world. The decision was to start from a ‘blank slate’ (the Tabula Rasa the album derived its name from) and progress from there”.
With upwards of 20 years experience between them OTN say they are stronger together than the sum of their parts and their combined influences range from metal, to jazz and hip hop. Recording of the album was at Joe Arthur’s studio in Fourways and focused on the live experience; "all tracks were built from the live recording, with the overdubs limited to the vocals, sampling and then the guitars to thicken up sound, depth and atmosphere".
Wielding their trusty Fender Strat and PRS, the guitarists recorded live without effects or pedals "save distortion and overdrive". The bass is a Lakland Skyline USA 5-string, and the drums "a five-piece birch wood Tama Starclassic and Superstar Hyperdrive drumkits, a Pearl brass shell piccolo snare". With their eclectic range of musical tastes I'm eager to get my hands on (and ears round) this album and see how they gel such seemingly disparate influences.
The latest single 'Braille' is a strong opening track, with a rousing repetitive riff intro, a deliciously deep bass and catchy chorus. The song began as "a hybrid of an idea" which gained direction and grew legs in the practice room. 'Jacks To Position' lures me with a grumbling deep intro and low vocal against a chugging background instrumental, kicking up pace for the chorus. Here is where we start to see the combination of the band's influences as the song slips into a rap section. The song-rap interplay continues in 'The Finer Points of Gravity', and indeed throughout much of the album, fusing hard core rap, hip hop and heavy rock in a way which reminds me of Linkin Park once upon a time.
'Circles' starts off chilled with a funky relaxed groove which again builds to the chorus, and features a media clip of Nelson Mandela. 'The Torrent' opens with a strong guitar and solid rhythm section as the backbone to the track, a more growling vocal and is generally a track with attitude and heavenly bassline.
'Left of Center' has lush riffs and the most melodic vocals - this guy can sing - again intermingled with spoken word with a lighter more hip hop feel. This is one of the tracks the band "beat into shape", "We keep the writing process as organic as possible... Some of the songs developed from individual ideas that were bought to the table, some were reworked… The verse for ‘Left of Centre’ was written during the recording process".
The title track 'Tabula Rasa' begins with a gentler vocal - my new vocal crush! - and climbs to a heavier chorus (a theme throughout the album), introducing more angst and anger as the track rolls along. This aggression filters into the next track, 'Bleed Me Dry'.
'The Great Divide' rises and falls in pace and timbre throughout, starting with a soft vocal and quiet rap. 'Plastic Crown' is a rewrite of a previously released track, and has a funky hip hop groove with elements of a Sade-style chill zone, but does get heavier as it goes along.
By far the most eclectic and ambitious track on a debut album I've heard in a while, 'Moving Steadily' illustrates the true diversity and versatility of OTN, introducing saxophone and orchestra to the mix. The vocals are impassioned and the instrumental is a dramatic fusion of genres which is surprisingly easy to listen to and quite loveable. This is a truly impressive close to a diverse album which takes you on a journey of sorts (sorry, cliché I know) but one that you will enjoy and want to travel again.
Stand out tracks: ‘The Torrent’, ‘The Great Divide’ and ‘Moving Steadily’.
Andrew Glass - Bass
Darren Keogh - Drums
Duane Arthur - Vocals & Sax
Gez Mbele - Emcee & DJ
Ian Wishart - Guitars
Tyrone Mayer - Guitars
Jason Cole - Sound Engineer