1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the category “Zen Arcade”

Crazy Over You – Zen Arcade

Snowflake - Zen Arcade

Snowflake – Zen Arcade

I don’t know if you, like me, were first introduced to the band Zen Arcade through this little gem, ‘Crazy Over You’, possibly through the 2001 5FM compilation album ‘Showcase 3: Unearthed’. If you were, then probably, like me, you were immediately taken by the group as this is as good an introduction to a band as you could want.

It starts with a broody guitar, drum and vocals and then these are joined by a slightly ominous violin (or perhaps cello, I’m not great with telling the difference), as it gathers momentum, sliding effortlessly from the quieter part into the soaring and aching chorus. This song gathers together a number of vital ingredients – a great vocal, edgy guitars, perfect string instrumentation, measured drumming – and, under the masterful production hand of Neal Snyman, takes these individual bits, which all shine on their own, and counjures up a magical synergy to create a quite perfect six minutes and six seconds of rock.

It is hard to believe that this song is nearly twenty years old as it still sound fresh and alive all these years later. When I first heard this, I immediately put it quite high in my personal top 100 favourite SA songs list, mindful of the fact that new releases tend to enter that list quite high and then slowly sink as repeated listens wear off the gleam. But with ‘Crazy Over You’, the song still remains a firm favourite of mine and still rides high in my all time favourite SA songs list. I guess one could say I’m still crazy over it.

Where to find it:
Snowflake – Zen Arcade (2001), Zen Arcade, ZACD001

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Summer Sun – Zen Arcade

Release - Zen Arcade

Release – Zen Arcade

After the success of their debut album ‘Snowflake’, Zen Arcade were faced with the difficult second album which they called ‘Release’ just to make sure you knew what it was. On the album is a jaunty tune called ‘Summer Sun’ which lives up to its title. It’s a bright affair and lacks the edginess that earlier songs like ‘Crazy Over You’ had. There are hints of Just Jinger and UK band Dodgy (remember them?) in the song.

I imagine that this song was possibly written in the UK where, if you’ve ever spent a winter in that part of the world will know the light bouncy feeling you get the first time the gloomy grey lifts and the biting cold eases itself into the first warm sunny day. And the song is just like that, it’s like a gloom has been lifted from your life. It’s not sugar sweet poppy nonsense, the band have maintained their rock sensibilities with this direction, so those who like their Zen Arcade to have a harder edge should not be too disappointed with this.

If you could imagine the Velvet Underground making cheerful music (yes, I know that’s quite hard to do), you might get an idea of what this song sounds like. File alongside Just Jinger’s ‘Paradise In Summertime’ and listen to when its cold and miserable. It will perk you up.

Where to find it:
Release – Zen Arcade (2003), Risa Kell

Up – Zen Arcade

Up – Zen Arcade

Snowflake - Zen Arcade

Snowflake – Zen Arcade

‘Up’ by Zen Arcade is a grunge song to chill out to. It has a cascading guitar riff that you can sort of glide around on like going on a lazy Sunday stroll down one of those twirling water slides. You keep expecting the song to burst out of its chill straitjacket but it never does and this creates a bit of nervous tension as the Zensters keep tight control of themselves, never letting ‘Up’ spill over into the noisy splash of the wave pool.

Iain McKenzie’s vocals weave a brittle spell over the song, vying with the guitar riff for centre stage. Neither wins the battle as the listener is absorbed into the intensity of the voice and the beauty of the instrument. The song was taken from the band’s debut album ‘Snowflake’ and has all the suble touch of a snowflake gently brushing your life before it melts off to the fade.

‘Up’ gave Zen Arcade their second number one on the SA Rockdigest charts in 2001. They would go on to score 3 more number 1’s, but never with such a deft touch of a song.

Where to find it:
Snowflake – Zen Arcade (2001), Zen Arcade, ZACD001

Jammez – Zen Arcade

Jammez – Zen Arcade (Hüskier then the rest)

Zen Arcade - Letter From A Friend

Zen Arcade – Letter From A Friend

Zen Arcade is the name of an album by American rock band Hüsker Dü. It is also the name of an edgy rock band that came to light in South Africa in the early 2000’s. They produced some fine, polished rock, particularly on their debut album ‘Snowflake’. ‘Jammez’ was an early release of theirs, appearing on the EP, ‘Letter From A Friend’ and it is a little rough compared to later stuff, but it introduced us to this emerging talent.

There are hints of the Chili Peppers in the funky guitar and asymmetric rhythms, while Iain Mackenzie’s strong vocals have a disturbing, almost brittle edge and urgency to them. The overall affect is to leave you feeling slightly ill at ease, but at the same time highly satisfied.

The song made it to number 2 on the SA Rock Digest’s weekly charts and also made their list of the top 50 songs of 2002, coming in at number 42. Yes, their later material benefited from their growing experience and exposure, allowing record companies to spend a bit more money on their studio time and production, but this original gem from them is well worth seeking out.

Where to find it:
Letter From A Friend EP – Zen Arcade, June 2002, Zen Arcade, ZACD00

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