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1. ‘Poles Apart’ - Karen Zoid * [EMI]

Karen Zoid Karen Zoid’s wonderful debut album, ‘Poles Apart’, brashly grabbed a major label release on EMI and arrived just as a new wave of South African rock acts were starting to make their presence felt, particularly Afrikaans bands. The movement needed a figurehead, and in a year in which the ladies led the pop-rock procession from the front, it got just that. Up stepped this smart, confident, vulnerable, funny, sneering, sweet, blonde rocker, with a sack of great songs, and an enthusiasm and belief in her and our music that should be bottled and made required sprinkling for all our South African artists and record companies. ‘Poles Apart’ was exactly the intelligent, emotional, and balming album that we needed to get through a tough year. Try imagining a blend of classic SA albums like ‘Edi Niederlander’s ‘Ancient Dust’, ‘The Pressure Cookies’, and Koos Kombuis’ ‘Elke Boemelaar se Droom’ and you’re getting warm.

This remarkably mature and consistently unboring album opens in stirring rock style with the rough, dramatic guitar chords of 'Set of Wheels (Karoo Anthem)’, which also drove off with the SA Rock Digest ‘Song Of The Year’ for 2001. Our new favourite South African road song warns us that we’re off on a Zoidian journey through contemporary SA. Travel under soft, folky ‘Southern Skies’, meet a very sarcastic ‘Waitress’ ("The food here is tasteless!"), and catch a ride with a chatty taxi driver who will tell you that "we live in a land where our celebrities are TV continuity announcers". She assures us that ‘Afrikaners is pleserig’ ("Dit kan julle glo!") and reveals that all her friends are ‘Yuppie scum’ ("they got the money, but I got the fun"). And dangling constantly from the rear-view mirror, and protecting us on this wild trip, is her ‘Engel’, an honest and utterly gorgeous two-and-a-half minute confessional ("Ek is so dronk soos Koos Kombuis, ek het geen swembad by my huis; My sister woon in Potchefstroom, die mense daar rook almal boom.").

On ‘Poles Apart’, Karen Zoid teases, rants and rocks her way through 14 tracks of perceptive, humorous and sensitive English and Afrikaans lyrics, all set to a backdrop of imaginative and solid South African rock sounds. It is an obvious and unanimous choice for our SA Rock Album of the year. As Nobesotho informed the nation, as she left the Big Brother house: "Chicks Rule!!". She’s absolutely right.

2. ‘Steady On’ - Moodphase5ive * [African Dope]

album cover MoodPhase 5ive’s contemporary gumbo of Cape Town’s hottest sounds, in one stunningly original album, began appearing on sound systems in many of the Mother City’s coolest food and music hangouts early in the year.‘Steady On’ managed to attract and dazzle a wide selection of SA and international music fans via a bush-fire word-of-mouth campaign, culminating in the group’s acclaimed appearance at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Cape Town in March.

'Steady On' is an album of trip-trance jazzy rap-hop, boasting a collection of wonderfully inventive and layered songs with biting socially relevant lyrics. The group consists of two front voices - Rapper Denver "D-Form" Turner and soul sister Lady Ernestine "Ernie"Deane - and four classy musicians (the band should actually be called MoodPhase 6ix). These 12 songs will enhance your life and improve your day, from the fizzing opening salvo of ‘Brainstorm’, ‘Rise ‘n Shine’,and ‘Steady On’, through the brilliant Miles Davis tribute (‘Miles’), to the sombre closing track, ‘Geto@Sunset’. ‘Steady On’ was mixed, mastered and released by Krushed & Sorted at African Dope, and its wide appeal and success are proof that this is a group assured of bigger and better things in the year to come.

3. ‘Snowflake’ - Zen Arcade * [Indie]

album cover 2001 was a year when SA rock needed a big traditional new band with a hard crisp sound, killer songs, and a sparky live show, something to blow away the dance music cobwebs and re-establish rock as the dynamic, evocative and thrilling music it has always has been. Step up the four lads from Zen Arcade who fitted the bill and ended the year as the band to watch in 2002 and further. These Hüsker Dü fans produced a smouldering album of mellow grunge and thundering rock that left one in little doubt that they were hearing something very special. The steady drums and bass of Andrew Cleland and Alistair Mathie anchored James Donaldson’s incendiary guitar and the edgy, tortured vocals of Iain McKenzie.

Add some violas and cellos to that mix and you have their big, first single, 'Crazy Over You', which stood out on ‘Snowflake’ as well as on the excellent ‘5FM Showcase 3’ assortment of new SA rock. It wasn’t the only great song among these seven - 'Not About You’ strutted like prime Zep; ‘Sister’, ‘Take Out The Trash’ and ‘Step Back’ crackled with energy and intent; and ‘Up’ is the clearest indication of the breadth of this band’s potential. On ‘Crazy Over You’ Iain sang: "Is there anybody out there, anyone at all?", not quite sure if anyone had heard or noticed. Well fortunately a lot of people did, and are all still raving about this album. More please!

4. ‘Africa’s Not For Sissies’ - Syd Kitchen * [No Budget]

album cover Syd is a hugely talented songwriter and guitarist and (unfortunately) a hugely overlooked South African musician. His two previous albums - 'Waiting for the Heave' (1985) and 'City Child' (1995) - made this clear, but his 2001 masterpiece, ‘Africa’s Not For Sissies’ puts the issue beyond all doubt. This 11-song album is earthy, evocative, about Africa and of Africa, and simply stunning. Songs like ‘Calling’,‘Settler’, ‘Thekweni’ and ‘Chicken Run’ prove that Syd Kitchen (no relation to Koos Kombuis, besides musically) has the red dust of Africa running through his veins and a finger firmly on the pulse of a nation still going through a traumatic, transitional period.

But it's not just the music that makes this album work. His insightful and poignant lyrics talk of the wonders of Africa and simultaneously the horrors, all tinged with this weathered Natal troubadour’s "twinkle in the eye" humour. He is the hippest of hippies and has produced a profound and essential SA album of extreme beauty and social awareness that you ignore at your peril. Syd admits: "It's so amazing, living in paradise", while warning us that "Africa’s not for Sissies". Our national paradox disguised as an essential South African folk-rock album.

5. ‘Burn’ - Venessa Nolan * [Rhythm]

album cover ‘Burn’s’ grey cover photo of Venessa’s fringe-covered face first appeared on a huge billboard on a Cape Town highway at the same time as behind it, a massive fire swept across Table Mountain, creating a powerful backdrop and unintentional "brand" awareness. These ten original ballads introduced us to an impressive new singer, songwriter and pianist. Dark and exquisitely broody, these songs swirl around in the mind and tingle in hidden recesses of the brain, playing symphonic bedsit rock on your heartstrings. Songs like, ‘Fragile’, ‘LosingControl’, ‘With You’ and ‘Emptiness High’ followed each other onto the radio and into the charts. But, singles aside, this 'Glorious Gem' of an album, makes it clear that we have a major new talent on our hands. And thanks to her emotive piano playing, 'Burn' qualifies as our‘Unplucked’ album of the year.

6. ‘Songs From The Mall’ - Max Normal [Chameleon]

album cover Watkin "Waddy" Tudor Jones Jnr first tested the SA Hip-Pop waters a few years back as an original member of the Original Evergreens, and then again earlier this year with his dour but sussed ‘Memoirs Of A Clone’ solo album. On the excellent ‘Clone’ collection he introduced us to the strange ‘Max Normal’ ("dress code, dang-de-dang-dang-dang, strictly formal"), soon to be the name of his new band. As Max Normal’s frontman, Jones wrote and released this startling mix of wicked words and hip beats, and also added some reworked songs off the ‘Clone’ album.

Since then, the group’s dynamic live performance has conquered audiences across SA and in Europe (ask Nelly Furtado!). But this Max is not normal at all, he’s got a quick wit, and a razor-sharp tongue and mind to match. One minute he is schmoozing about some ‘Good Old Fashioned Loving’ and the next he’s being very rude to some guests in ‘Space Invaders’, and complaining paranoidly about everything including cinema pains - "You talk too loud in the movies, won’t you please be a little bit considerate". Other highlights include ‘Crowd Control’, Funny Money’, and ‘Punch My Teeth Out’. We don’t know which mall they’ve been hanging out in, but recommend you buy this album and keep up with the Joneses.

7. ‘Farewell Station Road’ - Wayne Pauli * [Bulldog]

album cover Guitarist Wayne Pauli had already recorded some songs at home on his 4-track, in appropriate ‘Nebraska’ style, when he was called in to play most of the guitar sessions on Venessa Nolan’s ‘Burn’ album. He so impressed the boys at Sunset Recording Studios with his skills and commitment, that they happily donated some studio time and invited him back to record his own stuff. You don’t get offers like that every day, and neither do you get to hear SA folk-blues albums as intense and wrenching as what resulted from that grabbed opportunity. The urgent Chris Isaak huskiness of opening track ‘Who? (can relate to you)’ guaranteed immediate chart action, but the rest of the songs move off into true-blues territory, songs about Mom, Dad, ex-girlfriends, crying, farewells, and one called ‘Deep Black Hole’ that probably won’t crop up on the next summer hits collection. But I’m sure Wayne will get brighter, later, if you know what we mean!

8. ‘Thin Shoes In June’ - Felix Laband * [African Dope]

album cover Young musical whizz-kid Felix soon realised that fronting a grunge-punk band in ‘Maritzburg was not where his true skills were being best utilised. So he tapped his heels together and zoomed across to join the growing new musical community in the Gardens at the foot of Table Mountain. There they immediately loved and appreciated all his mysterious and wacky little electronica vignettes, especially the Krushed ‘n Sorted duo who helped Felix with the mixing and mastering and then released his debut package of 15 strange and wonderful Labandisms on their African Dope label. ‘Thin Shoes In June’ is choc-full of groovy instrumentals with hidden angles that don’t always have a conventional structure and aren’t always as they seem to be. Listen to tracks like ‘Cat On The Fence’, ‘Bats In My Hair’, ‘Run.Alive.Run’ and ‘Thin Use For Shoes’ - all terminally weird and wired. ‘Thin Shoes In June’ is an inventive and confident debut from a prolific and creative musical head. Our best SA Laband of the year!

9. '8 Days' - The Led * [Rhythm]

album cover These five Stellenbosch university friends formed this band back in 1995 and released two sparkling and generally acclaimed EP’s (‘Last Evening’s Dreams’ and ‘2a.m.’) over the following four years. Those EPs, and a polished, electric live set, earned The Led a host of SA fans who have since been waiting patiently for this first full offering. Work on the album began over a year ago, and found the members collaborating from different continents. The ‘8 Days’ of the title refers to the total number of days all five were together in the same studio, yet the 12 thrilling songs on this very strong album show no sign of this displacement, and benefit from the measured and patient creative and recording process. Vocalist Skye Stevenson has an ear for a great hook, and a posh, polished voice that sounds all sophisticated against the band’s slick but grungy backing. Opening track, ‘And I Reason’, shows off all The Led’s assets and moved quickly up the charts. The album will no doubt follow soon with songs like ‘Working Day’, ‘Sunshine And Happiness’ and ‘Holding On’. As good a full debut album as we had expected or hoped.

10. ‘Rising above the Madness’ - Lionel Bastos [SAFm]

album cover Lionel Bastos has already released a handful of quality pop-rock albums and writes and produces for many SA artists. 'Rising above the Madness' is his latest half studio, half "live" album of mature ballads, all masterfully produced and professionally executed. On these songs (all his own compositions), Bastos’ rich, warm vocals add an intimacy to an album of the finest armchair rock, while the Latin-tinged instrumentation flows effortlessly with a dinner party mellowness. The second half of the album features seven songs that were recorded as part of a live webcast (but with no audience present) in the seclusion of the home of internet-only recluse, Dotcoza. It must have seemed like bad timing to release a great single like ‘Thank You’ at the same time as Dido’s hit of the same name. But Lionel’s ‘Thank You’ still attracted a lot of interest, as did other ballads like ‘’I’ll Forget About You (Every Day)’, ‘I Can Resist (Anything Except Temptation)’, and 'She Can't Let it Go', which topped the AOR charts, which is no mean feat for this deserving and talented SA singer-songwriter.

11. ‘All I Am’ - Kaolin [Sheer]

album cover Kaolin Thompson’s previous band, Naked, and the under-achieving debut album of the same name, are now distant memories. After a short break from the SA music scene, this versatile and multi-talented pop Amazon has temporarily put aside the daily duties of marriage and motherhood, to get her promising career back on track. ‘All I Am’, her honest and openhearted solo debut is sure to reinstate Kaolin in the SA spotlight where she clearly belongs. Working with producers Neal Snyman and Q Forster, Kaolin serves up a consistently trip-poppy mix of cool songs and the occasional instrumental. It opens with the swirling beauty of‘Crossing’, before moving straight into the first single, ‘Real’, a gorgeous pop hit penned by the upcoming SA songwriter, Dean Hart.There’s more variety to come with tracks like ‘Is This Your Dream’,‘Ambience’, and ‘Walking On Air’. Kaolin is back and 'All I Am' proves that she is still an important presence on the SA music scene.

12. ‘Akasic Record’ - Kalahari Surfers * [African Dope]

album cover The original ‘Akasic Record’ of the title could be tentatively explained as the ‘Collective Unconscious’ released as a vinyl album, all the universe’s knowledge contained and accessible in its grooves. Yup, Warrick Sony is back and he’s trying to achieve just that with this broad and breathtaking musical opus. Sony is the only remaining active member of the Kalahari Surfers, the musical collective whose five iconic, "politically-active" albums all achieved ‘Banned By The Nats’ status in the ‘80’s, a mark of quality and relevance. Generally regarded as one of SA’s musical marvels, Sony returns herewith an entrancing 12-track, 75-minute soundscape of African sounds, indigenous beats, ambient dub, jazz, electronica, and snatches of lyrics, chants and samples taken from his recordings of the Himba and Koisan, all fluidly arranged and produced. ‘Akasic Record’ is the magical, mysterious musical trip Warrick Sony always promised to take us on.

13. ‘Who Painted The Moon?’ - Nianell * [Fresh]

album cover During a lunch meeting with Fresh Music boss Benjy Mudie, music publicist Ingrid Roding suggested he listen to a CD by an unknown female singer. An hour later, while driving home, Mudie pulled off the freeway and literally signed Nianell over the phone. It’s not hard to spot what caught his attention here. Namibian-born Nianell is sure to be a major new singing talent on the SA landscape following the release of this stunning album (named and written after a lunar eclipse!) which was produced by Mauritz Lotz. Her emotional and original ballads draw their influences from artists like Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Enya and Lesley Ray Dowling, and are clearly all written to highlight her awesome, crystal-clear and wide-ranging voice. The soaring vocals on ‘As One’ marked it out as the first single, but songs like ‘Take Me Home’, ‘Have Faith’, ‘Feeling Grows’ and the lovely title track will all soon attract a lot more fans to this classy, new pop diva.

14. ‘Voortvlugtend’ - Akkedis * [SSS Records]

album cover The ‘Voortvlugtend’ album is a spot-on example of the creative and diverse Afrikaans pop-rock that has been surfacing in 2001 (see also Beeskraal and Spinnekop). This second album offering from the Lizard dudes is a great mixture of the carefree and serious, with lots of great melodies thrown in for good measure. Akkedis also played these tunes to a rapturous audience in London earlier this year. These zany songs from the Dennis broers cover topics from having a love affair with your Datsun Stanza (!), through to the hard-hitting drug addiction of 'Jannie Cocaine'. ‘Sweet Stellenganga’ is a cover of Valiant Swart’s ode to Boland weed that, for once, successfully samples that old musical chestnut, ‘Mbube - The Lion Sleeps Tonight’. "In die oerwoud ("jungle"), die moerse oerwoud" of SA Rock 2001, they are the Lizard Kings, they can do anything!

15. ‘Dreamland’ - Edi Niederlander [Indie]

album cover It would take a really cold heart not to be overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of Edi Niederlander's long-awaited third album. It’s been over 10 years since her ‘Hear No Evil’ collection, but it is obvious that this respected SA folk-musician has been keeping herself in good songwriting and guitar playing condition. Here, wonderful acoustic tunes wrap themselves around some earthy drum ‘n bass, African, and ragga rhythms, and all are given an injection of warmth by Edi's clear and powerful vocals, typically perceptive lyrics and stylish guitar. From the sarky opener, ‘Bye Bye’, with its urgent jazzy beat, to the soft, gentle ‘Undying Light’, ‘Dreamland’ is yet another wondrous and diverse collection of classic Edi. "Save my soul from Cyberspace" she pleads on ‘Marathon Head’, clearly hankering after the good old days, but Edi Niederlander is back and still relevant.

16. ‘The Moon Is A Spoon’ - Sunways * [Fresh]

album cover This SA rock trio - Robbie Boake (ex-Squeal), Sarah Hills, and Jason Horseman - had been together for a few years before they signed to the Fresh label and released this angsty rock debut. ‘The Moon Is A Spoon’is a far more serious album than its sweet poppy title suggests, with its songs slowly and languidly revealing their charms. Like the single‘Style’, it’s mostly very downbeat and moody, although ‘Colour Me In’ is an energetic, head-nodding blast. But overall this is an album that indicates a patient and intelligent approach to songwriting and production, and that’s what keeps it still fresh and interesting as the year ends. Good thing too, as Sunways have been successfully touring the album around England and Ireland over the past months.

17. ‘Rewind’ - Wonderboom * [DGR]

album cover It's about time that someone paid decent homage to our SA music legends, well, musically speaking for starters (and where is our SA Rock Hall Of Fame anyway?). {It's here... - ed}. So well done to the wild rockers from Wonderboom who have taken some of the greatest SA songs of all time (Falling Mirror’s ‘Johnny Calls The Chemist’, éVoid’s ‘Shadows’), given them complete 2001 raunchy musical make-overs, and released them on to an unsuspecting SA public. From their somewhat irreverent kwaito version of Rabbitt’s delicate 'Charlie' to the respectful cover of Juluka's 'Africa', ‘Rewind’ skriks up these golden oldies with new attitude, poetically-licensed reworkings of the lyrics, and a bag of contemporary studio tricks. But what about 'The Buccanneer' and 'Weeping' and ‘ZX Dan’ etc? I guess we'll have to wait for ‘Rewind II’. Based on this effort, we’re all looking forward to it!

18. ‘Merry-Go-Round’ - Wess-Lee [Scorpio]

album cover This may be cute-voiced, post-Madonna smooth pop, but Wess-Lee’s debut album is still an impressive and entertaining piece of work. ‘Merry-Go-Round’ was released on Joe Theron’s Scorpio Label and benefited from Marius Brouwer’s slick production, a consistent bunch of Kreesan-penned songs, and some sizzling guitar touches from Mauritz Lotz. This 11-track album has so far spawned a string of hit singles - the sing-a-longy "aye-aye-ayes" of ‘Like A Holiday’, the broody ‘WhatThe Hell Did We Do’, and the best of the bunch, ‘These Sparks Will Fly’. Don’t be deceived by the cover, Wess-Lee is not your typical blonde kugel pop star, she is focused and ready to conquer the SA pop scene. Sparks are definitely going to fly!

19. ‘Xero’ - Binary [Indie]

album cover 2001 was the year that SA indie bands stepped up and embraced the marketing opportunities that PC home studio software, recordable CDs, MP3’s, websites, email and online music publications offered, aside from the traditional gigging and selling CDs at the door style. Credit here to Joburg’s Binary who made sure they had a strong album to promote before spreading the word as wide as they could. ‘Xero’ is a short, solid slice of brainy indie rock, moody and massive. Rough-edged vocals, chiming guitars and a deft songwriting touch give songs like ‘Barefoot Girl’, ‘Come Over’, and ‘Cannonball’ lasting appeal, with hooks that lodge deep, long after you’ve heard them. As the year closes, Binary have clearly established themselves as one of the better SA bands to watch closely in 2002.

20. ‘It’s A Small World’ - Mondetta [Sheer/SAFm]

album cover It may be a small world, as DisneyWorld, Mondetta (and those pesky aliens) keep telling us, yet the ‘World Music’ sections in CD stores are growing a lot bigger these days. But there was no thought of any recordings when these five musicians "coincidentally" merged at Womad Benoni a few months back, and quickly realised their collective musical potential. Still, the group’s stunning debut album, one of the best out of Southern Africa this year, arrived timeously for inclusion in our Top 20. The line-up alone promised an intriguing musical fruit salad - imagine Tananas with Wendy Oldfield on vocals, an Israeli (Elad Neeman) on assorted exotic percussion in place of Ian Herman, and a Korean-Canadian called Julia Kim adding swathes of sweet violin. Songs like ‘Yezzman’, ‘Sun’ and ‘Middleeasterngroove’ stand out on this big world album.

Eminent Child 21. Mondmusiek - Breyten Breytenbach * [Rhythm]
22. Memoirs Of A Clone - Watkin Tudor Jones Jnr [Chameleon]
23. Digital Inability - Benguela * [Rhythm]
24. Play My Way - Matthew van der Want [Bitchin Pitchin]
25. ‘n Vis Innie Bos - Anton Goosen * [Gallo]
26. Bongolution - Bongo Maffin [Sony]
27. Into The Universe - Eminent Child [Sarepta]
28. Oomblik Van Waansin - Mel Botes [Janus]
29. The Decoy - Jason Glover [Indie]
30. Sands Of Time - Desert Rose [Saville-McClowe]/ Mother's Daughter - Kate Normington [Sheer/SAFm]

By Stephen Segerman and John Samson

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