It has been many a long year since a debut record has come bursting out of the ether and tackled me from behind in a huge, glorious bear hug with the intensity that John Wizards’ self-titled debut album has. Imagine, if you will, a combination of the melodic IDM weirdness of folks like Plaid, µ-Ziq, and especially Max Tundra, combined with the abstract, psychedelic dub made by people like Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Bill Laswell. Add to this a wide variety of traditional and contemporary African genres, with contemporary American auto-tuned hip-hop and pop music thrown in too, and you will be just scratching the surface of what is going on with John Wizards’ spectacular, mind-bending debut record. You can play the ‘name that influence’ game all day long with this one, but it comes down to this: I have never heard anything that sounds quite like John Wizards. What is more, I strongly suspect that that will change in the future because there will be a lot of people who are going to start imitating Wizards’ sound once this record starts making the rounds. John Wizards takes all of the music that it has absorbed, explodes it into teeny, tiny bits, and blasts the mangled shards of influences with an unholy form of gamma radiation until some gorgeous mutated beast emerges from the muck and dances around your room.
How many times in the last week have I felt literally compelled by John Wizards’ music to leap up onto the top of my La-Z-Boy recliner, shaking my ass lasciviously and frantically pistoning my arms, appearing to anyone lucky enough to witness this spectacle like some spun-out hobbit who has been forced into servitude as a go-go dancer? Approximately 37. Is it safe to operate a motor vehicle while listening to John Wizards’ music? Absolutely not. The driver will pinwheel her head around, arms extended to either side, making slow snake-like undulations, shit-eating grin plastered to her face, until she crashes her automobile, possibly committing vehicular manslaughter. There is more vim, vigor, joy, and uniqueness in John Wizards’ self-titled debut than any other record that I have heard this year.
John Wizards is based in South Africa, but its lead vocalist Emmanuel Nzaramba is a refugee from Rwanda. Its multi-ethnic band makeup and compelling story seem to be getting a fair amount of attention from the press, but I do not wish to overly dwell on John Wizards’ circumstances because the real story here is the magnificent music. There is a joyful sincerity in this music; a sense that John Wizards is actually inviting the listener to share something special. John Wizards contains a surplus of happiness spilling out all over the place, but there is also a haunting sadness on many of these tracks, one often turning on a dime into the other.
John Wizards does not just get away with inventing one novel style and rocking the hell out of it, it manages to create multiple moods and textures that flow seamlessly into one another without a single dull or unnecessary moment anywhere on this record. John Wizards is at once fearlessly inventive and experimental, while being simultaneously highly approachable, accessible and melodic. I am having difficulty identifying favorite tracks on John Wizards because each track is so distinctive and wonderful in its own way, yet still resides in the same hallucinatory world as the other tracks on the album. “iYongwe” is a fantastic song; the heartbreaking closer “Friend” has to be mentioned; and “I’m Still a Serious Guy” seriously rules, but then so does every other track on the album. I don’t mean to gush here folks, but this one has really gotten under my skin. Go buy yourself a copy now.