- Tender ballads mingle with futuristic club tracks on a strong debut LP.
- Okzharp and Manthe Ribane's music has previously been more about sensation than expression. Killer tracks like "Dear Ribane" and "Teleported" focussed on rhythm, bassweight and sparse texture, combining sounds from the duo's native South Africa with the burly severity of grime. The London-based Okzharp's arrangements were lean and lethal, and dancer-model-artist Ribane wasn't so much a singer as a presence, her off-the-cuff Auto-Tuned vocals adding to the music's sci-fi flair. (She plays the same role in the project for videos, often directed by close collaborator Chris Saunders).
There is one track like this on the duo's debut album: the curt and catchy "Dun," whose synth lead, seemingly tapped out on one unsteady finger, dodges snare thwacks and Ribane's barked delivery. But it's tucked at the back end of a record that otherwise pursues pretty different goals. Ribane describes Closer Apart as a "360 turn" towards expressing her "lady side." In musical terms this means less infectious groove and more introspective mood. "W U @" opens the album in an almost Burial-like landscape of rainy synth chords and processed voice, and the minor-key mood doesn't let up until several tracks in. The grime influence, mostly submerged, pops up in "Make U Blue," which recalls the romance of XTC's "Functions On The Low." Other tracks—"Why U In My Way," the malevolent "Zagga"—sway forward on a hip-hop rhythm.
If anything, this new mode makes the duo's music sound even more strange. Their stark sonics and pointed arrangements (most tracks are between two and four minutes) lend themselves to futuristic club bangers, not ballads. But when it works, the results are still brilliant. "Tide," for example, is a poignant hit of melody, chord and bass—the bare bones of a pop song and nothing more. A midpoint run of brighter tracks is particularly strong, especially "Never Thought," with its sweet sample loop of Rhodes, guitar and splashy ride cymbal.
Sometimes, though, the transformation doesn't come off. The album was made in short bursts while the duo were touring, and they told the Wire that many of the tracks are first or second takes. "Time Machine," sketched out on the floor of a Milanese airport, stretches out over a drumless seven minutes. That's an epic length by the album's standards, and the track's anthemic chord progression and rumbling bass seems to be pitching for an epic mood. As does Ribane's spoken word: "Dear life / We about to really go far / So brace yourself, embrace yourself… " But her robotic sing-song is more unsettling than affecting, and the synth backing is never quite immersive. Spontaneity is often this pair's strength, but with more ambitious ideas it limits them.
01. W U @
02. Make U Blue
03. Why U In My Way
05. Never Say Never
06. Never Thought
07. Blue Tigers
08. Time Machine
13. Treasure Erasure