Opinion Review

The Shabeen: Folk Is Dead

Four years and one EP down the line, Jon Shaban and Ryan McArthur have just dropped The Shabeen’s debut album, “Folk is Dead” – a project I am almost certain will spark significant interest as they spread the 12 tracks with their nationwide launch tour this week. The Capetonian duo engineered and produced the entire album themselves, falling into the trend being adopted by a number of alternative bands at the moment – which allows for greater musical honesty when it comes to their recorded work.

Their sound is a curious amalgamation of folk, country and a dash of punk: a primarily acoustic blend of fast-paced guitar work, heady baselines courtesy of McArthur’s upright bass and narrative, thought-provoking lyrics. The opening track, ‘Stop Me’, begins with naked, choral vocals in a style most often associated with a drunken, 2am, arms-around-one-another pub song, lulling you into a mild stupor before launching into a wildly sped up guitar strum, similar to the hoedown style of Mumford and Sons.

‘Glass Half Full’s’ acoustic opening features a somewhat French flavour, courtesy of an accordion section (Stelth Ulvang of The Lumineers) which is equally apparent in the following track, ‘Quit Your Job’ – which urges just that. The former is a slightly lower octave song, the mouthfuls of lyrics and layered melody crafting a story of the lingering worries past events have left behind. A hint of hilarity is found in the lyrics of ‘Run Away’, and yet as ridiculous as they sometimes are, they are far too well crafted to lose any credit.

A strikingly gypsy-like flavour is found in ‘The Maths’ – whose somewhat bizarre music video consists of a toy fire truck ironically setting things on fire – while the off kilter melody in ‘Ahead of the Game’ is peppered with spinning clockwork sound effects and whistles. There is a prevailing vein of melancholy which runs throughout the punk-infused narrative of the album: a slightly less-than-happy note which highlights the more serious things a life – an apt and somewhat different take on song content today.

There is a stirring sense of growing urgency which never quite breaks in the darker, dramatic acoustics of ‘Footsteps’, and ‘Swords’ tells a tale of friendship and brotherhood: “We all stand together with our swords in the sky […] and the fact of the matter is that I can’t do it without you”. In a bout of progressive thinking the album closes with “You Never Listen”, a gentle ode to the fact you simply can’t change the world if you don’t pay closer attention to what’s really going on around you.

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Listen to ‘Folk Is Dead’ below on Deezer.