Nakhane – Bastard Jargon
The last time Nakhane entered the club, it was on Black Coffee’s guestlist. As the voice on the enduring dance floor anthem We Dance Again, Nakhane’s melancholy was the perfect foil to Black Coffee’s pulsating house. In the same way Nakhane’s clearest foremother ANOHNI lent soul to the synthesisers of Hercules & Love Affair, Nakhane’s spectral presence on We Dance Again is largely responsible for the song’s lasting impact on South African house music. Even so. Nakhane has returned to the dancefloor very few times since. On the brilliant breakthrough You Will Not Die, they found their voice instead in the same preternatural haze of baroque and art pop adopted from ANOHNI and in the vein of Perfume Genius (who appears next to Nakhane on this album’s Do You Well), joining a lineage of maudlin queer visionaries who found beauty in vulnerability.
In this sense, Bastard Jargon is an obvious change of pace. “Almost every song on it has some kind of wink towards sex,” Nakhane has said of the project, which finds itself occupied with the sweaty, libidinal pulse of disco. To achieve this, they turn to producer Nile Rogers, whose stylish bass riffs and funk informed approach are present across the album. This presence is most valuable when Rogers mingles with Nakhane’s arthouse approach, but less so when he takes the lead. His bass licks on Do You Well add the right amount of retro to support the idea, but on the 80’s R&B swing of The Conjecture it sounds too dated and insipid next to Nakhane’s otherworldly voice. Of course for Nakhane, it’s never as simple as sex and Studio 54. “It’s not necessarily a seductive, come to me, bedroom eyes kind of sex – it’s much more inquisitive, psychological sex.” So while Bastard Jargon does shift Nakhane toward debauchery, it does so from an objective, or rather cognitive, distance. The title, for instance, comes from Nakhane’s days as a literature scholar at Wits University.
The balancing act between Nakhane’s astute emotional quotient and their desire to let loose could make for compelling drama, but they often succumb to over analysis, never allowing themselves to surrender to the chaos of this internal conflict. This gives some of Bastard Jargon a strange sense of apprehension, compounded perhaps by how the music of Bastard Jargon was, in fact, made from a distance. The Caring presents Nakhane’s thesis up front; a song about convoluted emotional experiences told through infectious dance music. This and Tell Me Your Politik make for a strong opening act next to each other, until Hold Me Down, a mostly middling romance ballad, arrives a track or so too early. It’s followed by Hear Me Moan, a song that does too much thinking and not enough moaning. Part spoken word poem, part acid jazz experiment, Hear Me Moan is so weighed down by concept that it comes off as self-conscious and, most alarmingly, anything but self-aware.
It’s when Nakhane fully embraces either sex or the cerebral (avoiding the more interesting grey area in the middle, yes) that Bastard Jargon’s voyeuristic commentary on both works best. Tell Me Your Politik, a fiery pantsula-kwaito song replete with bombastic horn blasts, is about questioning the ideologies of your one night stand in bed. It’s a heady idea that flourishes from its assertiveness, heightened by a delightfully unhinged guest verse from Moonchild Sanelly. Likewise, when Nakhane surrenders to the scuzzy euphoria of dance music, the results are electrifying. The shuddering gay bar synthpop of Do You Well is glittery and grandiose, placing Nakhane and a brilliantly placed Perfume Genius in media res at the kiki, straddling desire and intimacy to focus on the more joyous parts of casual sex as they demand to worship their suitor in the light. But its Standing In Our Way, a strobe lit and sticky motorik number, that seems to best strike that balance between Nakhane’s intellectual pathos and the loose minded lust they’re itching to explore.
Atop the track’s sweaty beats, Nakhane’s breathy delivery of lyrics like “falling on my knees again, if only just to see your face,” is heartbreaking. “The problem is me,” they chant over Standing In Our Way’s cowbell ringing bridge, lamenting their propensity to overthink and providing an apt allegory for this album as a whole. With Bastard Jargon, Nakhane reenters the club with some trepidation. While their self-awareness has mostly proved a strength, on this project its limitations are exposed. Still, when Nakhane manages to shake themselves off and have a bit of fun, the results are dazzling. There’s a definite place for them on the dancefloor, there always has been. It’s right in front of them; the only one standing in the way is Nakhane.
Listen to Standing In Our Way from Bastard Jargon below.