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Posted by on Oct 29, 2010 in Featured, Music, Review | 13 comments

The Sick-Leaves: Sugarplum Fairies are Dancing with Delight

The Sick-Leaves - Last Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy album cover‘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 Album:

The Sick-Leaves by Sean Brand aeroThe 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 Sick-Leaves by Sean BrandThe 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 Verdict:

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

4-5blas

Linkage:

Free The Sick-Leaves Track Downloads:

(right-click the track name and select “Save As…”)

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.

13 Comments

  1. Love, Love this post!! Now, I am so curious about Sick-Leaves. You have done a great job in pimping them. You can pimp me anyday, I will pay you!! hahah!

    • The 3 download free downloadable tracks will give you a good introduction WSG. And I’m no pimp – they get a cut of the proceeds.

      In your case though, I’ll gladly work for free. 🙂

    • Hi there WhiteSockGirl,

      The BlaBla blog followed up this album review with an exclusive interview with Eksteen Jacobsz, the front man for The Sick-Leaves.
      Take a read here: http://bit.ly/hmaYU9

  2. as whitesockgirl said, brilliant review, me too very interrested, now were did i put my credit card to cool down after all the u2 tickets???????

    • R70 on the download from CD-Baby. Use the wifes’ credit card.
      🙂

  3. Very nice write up greg. Like the others so far, I’m curious to check Sick-leaves out a little closer. Will let you kmow what I think…

    • Glad you like it A-R. Spread the Leaves over on your side of the ocean.

  4. Cool article also hadn’t heard of the Sick leaves before, will look out for their gigs always enjoy seeing live shows, great to hear about new SA up and coming bands

  5. Love the t-shirts! But I am a little biased!

    • Odd comment to make dude?! Sure it is a cool t-, but what about the music?

    • Yeah random one there Eric. The shirt is cool but did you only pay attention to the shirts and not to the music?
      Take a look at the shirt and listen to the music too, sensory experience.

      • LOL at this conversation. Cool of the two @erics to support the cause, but I’m pretty sure the original Eric has listened the music somewhere along the line.

        His comment – mentioning his bias – about the quality of the t-shirt being worn by TS-L is because he is the co-founder of Springleap.com, the uber-cool t-shirt company site for whom TS-L is a brand ambassador. Springleap is a company at the forefront of South African design and urban cultural and is openly supportive of SA artists. Even without ever having shared a word with Eric, I’m certain his comment was well intended, and that he is more than familiar with the music.

        Click on Eric’s name in his comment to go to the Springleap site and buy a t-shirt or two to wear while you listed to the music now. That’ll be a nice way to apologise for hating on him without a second thought. And tell him BlaBla sent you!
        🙂

        Eric’s Blog: http://ericedelstein.com/ The History of Springleap: http://www.springleap.com/posts/view/how-springleap-began

  6. you guys are quite funny.
    nice review btw.
    nice t-shirt too.
    (can i say that?)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  5. The BlaBla Blog - [...] by Daryl Torr (the same man behind our favourite local album of last year, The Sick-Leaves’ Last Dance of…

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