The Sick-Leaves: Sugarplum Fairies are Dancing with Delight
‘Independent’ and ‘alternative’ and ‘rock’ are labels attached to musicians and artists who are popularly considered to exist outside of the mainstream. Especially when those labels are combined into terms such as ‘alternative-rock’ and ‘indie-rock’.
And yet, artists that find themselves attached to labels like these are often amongst the hardest working, most passionate and talented artists there are. And they are often overlooked because of this pigeonholing. Especially if they also happen to be South African. Fortunately, we have an opportunity to correct one such oversight here and now.
The third release by The Sick-Leaves – Last Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy – is one of the most polished and professional albums I’ve had the pleasure of listening to lately. Released earlier this year, the album hums with energy and packs its 11 tracks into a set of short and punchy bursts of solid guitar-driven excellence.
The listening experience has left me asking myself why I never knew about The Sick-Leaves until a few days ago. Like much of the music that I appreciate, both old and new, my introduction to The Sick-Leaves happened through a passing remark.
A comment made by Leigh on our recent “Who would you like to see supporting U2?” poll post led me to a quick and painless (and very affordable) download of the album via CD-Baby and here we are – musical horizons broadened once again through a shared passion for something a little more ‘real’ than pop radio choruses and the thumping sound of drum-machine loops.
Instead we get a much more pleasing indie rock album that delivers slick guitar riffs, some catchy lyrics and a big sound that effectively hides the fact that The Sick-Leaves is just one man and not a 3- or 4-piece group. Eksteen Jacobz is the man behind the music, the lyrics and the guitar and bass instrumentation of it all. About the only things Jacobz doesn’t do on the album are drum (Wayne Pictor does that very ably) and produce it (which was a task handled by Darryl Torr).
The layering on the album is so effective, that the clear shades of influence from larger outfits such as Muse, Nirvana, The Gaslight Anthem and Oasis is even more remarkable. Had I not done some reading while my download ran, I would not have guessed that The Sick-Leaves are essentially a solo project. In fact on the first listen I kept ‘hearing’ elements of early Midnight Oil, the Australian rock band which comprised a full five members.
The opening riff of the album opener ‘All You Want’ raised the first Oils moment for me – dig out their ‘Dreamworld’ and you’ll see what I mean. I heard them again in the hugely enjoyable ‘Coz You Like It’ in both drum and chorus.
The influences brought by Jacobz into the album are evident throughout it, but this is in no way a formulaic, soulless copy of others. Having spent time living in London it’s clear that Eksteen has taken on board the influences of the music of others around him, but he has made it his own. The influences are there sure, but they neither overpower nor dilute the strength of The Sick-Leaves.
Eksteen has indicated elsewhere that songs like ‘All You Want’ “…wears its influences heavily on its sleeve. The rhythm was inspired by The Rolling Stones’ ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ and the second riff is a nod to AC/DC’s Angus Young.”
The point is that these 11-tracks are strong works in their own right, all able to stand by themselves. They are big songs. They pack a lot in. I can see them performed live to great effect.
‘Run Away’ for example has the potential to be a classic arena rock track. Lighters (or cell phones as it is these days) blazing in raised hands as thousands sing every word of the songs’ strong lyrics and then chant the chorus in harmony with Eksteen.
‘K2’ similarly has that rock anthem feel about it – I see those same thousands with their raised arms swaying from side to side like a Depeche Mode live performance of ‘Personal Jesus’ as they chant the closing “I’m falling” lines over and over again.
The guitar work throughout the album is phenomenal – the man is clearly very talented. The track where this talent is most ably displayed is on the instrumental ‘Tell It Like It Is’. The variety of guitar sounds and riffs on the track is astounding when you remember that they are all played by the same person.
Another standout track for me is ‘Come and Go’ the up-tempo rhythm of which will have you tapping your feet, nodding your head and drumming on the dashboard by the second minute. And it’s also a song the captures the spirit of the album very well.
It’s very easy to enjoy rock music when it is this simple, honest and uncomplicated. Even if it is alternative and indie. It really is.
The Sick-Leaves’ previous albums have both garnered SAMA nominations, and I would be very surprised if LDOTSF doesn’t follow suite this year. (Nominations for the 2011 SAMA’s opens next week.)
Last Dance… is a very rewarding listening experience with just the right balance between edgy grunt and slick professionalism. The indie attitude is still there and it hasn’t been sacrificed to the gods of popularity. That said though, the album makes the artist significantly more accessible to a broader audience and it won’t be long before The Sick-Leaves takes to the mainstream of South African rock, as is his/their due. (Do you realise how difficult it is to write about one person as if they were many people?!)
The only let down? At under 50 minutes running time, the album simply ends too soon. The track length is fine, even the shorter songs seem to work in their brevity. But with a choice of 25 songs that Eksteen had written in preparation for recording LDOTSF, an additional track or two would definitely have elevated the albums’ overall value.
Despite this small niggle, the album is well worth the effort.
And if The Sick-Leaves are an indication of what modern SA rock music is able to produce, then our independent alternative rock world is sounding very healthy indeed. It may be the Sugarplum Fairy’s last dance, but it is dancing with delight.
BlaBla Blog Rating: 4½ Bla’s
- The Sick-Leaves on Facebook
- The Sick-Leaves on You Tube
- The Sick-Leaves on Twitter
- The Sick-Leaves on Mypsace
- The Sick-Leaves on Sound Cloud
- The Sick-Leaves on Reverb Nation
Free The Sick-Leaves Track Downloads:
(right-click the track name and select “Save As…”)
- Coz You Like It – taken from Last Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy
- Kaizen – taken from Stone the Crow
- All These Foolish Things (I’ve Said) – taken from Tunnel Vision
Big thanks to Linda Thompson at One Minute Trolley Dash for help with all the info and material. We will be doing a lot more with The Sick-Leaves in the near future, so stay tuned to The BlaBla Blog for more.