It’s hard to imagine a better time for BLK JKS to be releasing an EP than right now. Tapped to perform at the first ever World Cup opening concert, BLK JKS are a perfect South African showpiece for a worldwide audience — an indie rock powerhouse that goes beyond the kwaito and mbaqanga sounds that South Africa is primarily known for. Unfortunately (though not unexpectedly), the track getting the most publicity on ZOL! is the title track, an energetic but lightweight football chant that spends three minutes fighting against the essence of the other four tracks it’s sharing space with. It’s repetitive, ingratiating, and appropriately anthemic, but it simply does not mesh with the “typical” sound of BLK JKS, at least as that sound is exemplified by the rest of ZOL!.
Case in point: opener “Iietys”, whose surreal Wonderland-esque imagery and near-formless song structure belie the insistent beat behind them. There’s a bleak sense of helplessness to the song, a feeling that recurs throughout ZOL! with the exception of that momentum-jarring title track. “Bogobe” is a haze, eschewing percussion for dub-esque delay for its majority, eventually crashing into nothingness. “Paradise” is a lo-fi, angry take on Rush, while closer “Mzabalazo” is the band’s take on an anti-apartheid chant, offering urgency and ferocity like nothing else on the EP.
Given the band’s willing placement among the likes of Shakira and Black Eyed Peas at the World Cup concert, it’s hard to tell whether they’re trying to make some sort of political or social statement by placing the upbeat football anthem smack in the middle of all the bad vibes. What is clear is that BLK JKS is capable of much more than the call-and-response near-pandering of “ZOL!”; hopefully the rest of the world gets to hear everything else, too.