Okzharp & Manthe Ribane – Closer Apart

Okzharp & Manthe Ribane's latest album sadly lacks the intensity of their previous releases

Album Review by Ross Devlin | 04 Jul 2018
  • Okzharp & Manthe Ribane – Closer Apart
Album title: Closer Apart
Artist: Okzharp & Manthe Ribane
Label: Hyperdub
Release date: 6 Jul

On their first full-length for the experimental dance label Hyperdub, the Cape Town-based duo of producer Okzharp and singer/dancer Manthe Ribane dial down the tempo for a series of more traditional, vocal-focused songs. Closer Apart is diverse and diverges from their past work, although it loses some of the violent, rhythmic excitement associated with the duo’s earlier releases. By aligning themselves with a heavily processed pop aesthetic, Ribane ends up with the bite torn out of her authoritative voice, and save for a few moments of brilliance that could certainly service an EP, Okzharp offers dry production that carries the vocals and little more. The 2016 EP Tell Your Vision had syncopated house, downtempo EDM, and loose, deconstructed grime, with Ribane’s vocals adapting and shapeshifting underneath a subtle lacquer of autotune to suit the song’s feel. On paper, this seems like an album that could survive off of style and aesthetic alone, but we came unglued from the narrative, and only stuck around for a few choice tracks.

The South African duo seem to have taken a risk by abandoning their strength – club tracks with powerful vocals and pounding beats – in favor of more traditional songwriting. The duo also has never restricted themselves to a certain BPM. Over a series of EPs for Hyperdub, they’ve developed a bouncy, afrofuturist sound that relies on Ribane’s measured, robotic delivery to carry Okzharp’s excited, hyperkinetic beats. Both artists possess a unique energy, and there are many moments where they shine individually and alone, such as Okzharp’s jump to hyperspeed on Never Thought, and Ribane’s evocative flow on Tide and Why U In My Way. Together, the suite of Theletsa and Dun best illustrate the duo’s afrocentric, globalist sound, which is futuristic and traditional, capturing the essence of the modern urban clubscape.

Compared to their past work, the album lacks intensity and seems to rely on a heterogeneity of unrefined styles, making it seem more like an album of covers that flirts too closely to the tired hip-hop trope of a single, aimless verse. On the album’s surprise farewell track, Treasure Erasure, they trade the spotlight, with Okzharp’s flying saucer kettle drum setting up Ribane for a grand, if somewhat tautological, refrain: 'Don’t forget to remember, the times we shared, will last forever.' It feels misplaced that such an emotional curtain call should emerge from a directionless narrative, and so, it turns out that the biggest thing Closer Apart lacks is a strong claim to longevity.  

Listen to: Never Thought, Theletsa, Dun