Johannesburg’s Spoek Mathambo is an MC/producer practically soaked in style. There’s hardly a dry track on Father Creeper, the follow-up to his well-received initial foray into “township tech,” 2010’s Mshini Wam. Whether or not he still identifies with that conjured genre, the name has a kind of introductory logic. Hailing from the dense, sprawling township of Soweto, Mathambo combines African signifiers (shimmery highlife, rambunctious kwaito) with electro production evoking both extraterrestrials and human technology (like lasers or ray-guns). There’s something menacing about the name “township tech” though, a dark side that Mathambo channeled on his first album with cuts like his sinister interpretation of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control.” Father Creeper, on the other hand, is far lighter, more exuberant fare.
“Put Some Red On It,” which pairs a Southern hip-hop lurch with an exotic nightclub lead and deals with the blood diamond trade, is the darkest moment and perhaps the sharpest. His addition of live instrumentation might notch down the ominous level, although that natural pair of death and greed is a theme explored elsewhere. Perhaps related to his signing with Sub Pop, guitars and non-mechanical drums show up frequently, grounding Mathambo’s brand of Afro-futurism. The addition works at points, but when the tendency almost completely takes over on the last two tracks, it sounds like the MC has become more enamored with having fun on stage than producing the surprising and otherworldly anthems he is capable of. This transition might work with some bolder rock songs, but they’re largely derivative: “Stuck Together” sounds, quite awkwardly, like Kings Of Leon.
The real-instruments-move comes off decently on single “Let Them Talk,” which exhibits Mathambo’s energy as a frontman, rapping and sing-shouting in the almost-out-of-breath manner that is a punk-rock staple. As a rapper, he’s both inventive and syllabically tenacious, tap-dancing all over the beat like Dizzee Rascal. The sing-shouting, on the other hand, is a little hit-or-miss: It’s like he can’t commit to his newly found rockstar duties. Nevertheless, the “tech” is still a powerful presence, with most tracks lined with subterranean bass and astral synths.
As an integrator of styles, Mathambo is both voracious and omnivorous. This leads to a diverse and exciting listen, reflective of Johannesburg’s cosmopolitan culture and its country’s musical heritage. Occasionally the points of reference are too overt as one-offs (juke and Ratatat-reversed guitars on “Venison Fingers”), but they often coalesce into a complex and heady brew. Spoek Mathambo wants to get your attention, and he just might deserve it.