LV's stellar 2011 album Routes was a meditation on inner city London life narrated by beat poet Joshua Idehen. It was good enough to forget that the year before the UK group had disappeared to South Africa and returned with one of 2010's most infectious singles, the incomprehensible and delirious "Boomslang" featuring vocalist Okmalumkoolkat. The trio have returned to Hyperdub with Okmalumkoolkat in tow for a full album of South African-inspired music, a record that somehow manages to sustain the effusive charm of "Boomslang"—and its tireless enthusiasm—across the duration of an entire album.
Okmalumkoolkat isn't the only voice on Sebenza, but he's the dominant one. His distinct phrasing—which alternates between halting and stilted to smooth and fluid mid-bar—is the album's calling card. He uses cheeky catchphrases as the centre pieces for his songs and builds elaborate webs of ad-libs around them, like every bar of the trio's beats is another obstacle for him to overcome in some acrobatic fashion. LV return the favour with some of their most irresistible riddims. Their stunning and quick-footed blend of UK funky, soca and kwaito is more liquid than ever, and tracks like the high-tempo house of "Animal Prints" are some of their best productions yet, bottling exotic abandon in a sweaty groove bursting with energy.
In previous works LV have chiselled fine frameworks for MCs to spit over, but on Sebenza their production speaks in a sensuous dialogue with the vocalists. Whether it's the clumpy synths on "DL," the bleeps on the technology-obsessed "Zulu Compurar" or especially the weeping wall of circuitry blur that is album highpoint "Spitting Cobra," their synths and drum machines play more of an active role. On the latter, Okmalumkoolkat unwinds a careful, cautious rap about the perils of technology and internet culture that manages to sound farcical and deeply poignant all at once, muttering "Look, I'm an mpeg/jpeg/limpid, legless, hatless/twitter avatar lookin' for my blog address." All over the album Okmalumkoolkat throws out contemporary references in an almost surrealist manner, coming to a head on the divisive "International Pantstula" where he bleats through heavy-handed autotune "you gotta check out my blog," bragging about his supposed internet cred.
While they don't quite harness the same star power, the other vocalists on Sebenza far from underperform. The ever-unpredictable Spoek Mathambo appears on the record's darkest, strangest moments, vocals flipped and stretched like Idehen's on Routes, while cheeky duo Ruffest brag endlessly in thick accents between Sebenza's most adventurous rhythms. And when they cockily cluck "there's nothing like us," they're pretty much correct. Sebenza sounds like nothing else out there and yet LV's knack for genre-mincing produces an album that sounds both timeless and completely of its time, crossing musical and political borders with confident finesse.