John Wizards – ‘John Wizards’ (Planet Mu)

When first listening to John Wizards self-titled LP for the first time, it’s almost too much too take in. The dizzying myriad of reference points combined with a distinct sense of effervescent joy combine to almost overwhelming effect, riddled with a sense of unbridled creativity and a refusal to adhere to any pre-determined boundaries about what continuity of sounds entails. Its arrival on Planet Mu may seem like something of an odd choice, given the label’s propensity towards the outer reaches of electronica, but for what is essentially a pop record, it lacks none of the scope from the imprint’s heavy hitters.

The Cape Town based collective headed by 25-year-old John Withers, have created, in the broadest sense possible, an ‘African’ record. This in itself is a troublesome statement, as it patronises and neglects the massive diversity of sounds that the continent can produce, but for much of the album, this is the only musical thread linking the compositions. From the Shangaan Electro of ‘Limpop‘ to the meditative closer of ‘Friend‘, a nod to Malian tradition, there really is such a wealth of reference points that listing them here is nigh-on impossible and will probably ruin the sense of curiosity and intrigue that make experiencing the album for the first time so enjoyable. Waiting to hear what twist or turn the instrumentation will take next is undoubtedly compelling.

Whilst this daring assimilation of styles and genres could, in the wrong hands, lead to a self-indulgent mess, lost in the mire of its own expansiveness, this is by no means the case from the hugely talented band. But, despite the evident quality present throughout the album’s playtime, it can be hard to pin-point exactly how they manage to pull off such an array of styles and maintain continuity, avoiding the pitfalls of the cursed ‘directionless album’. Maybe it’s the sheer energy of the delivery, maintaining such an unstoppable sense of momentum that one can’t help but be enthralled. Or perhaps it’s simply the charming sincerity that oozes from every single track, with a real sense of this being a group doing what it loves to do, create great music. Either way, what sounds like a bridge too far on paper, is delivered with such panache that one would be hard pressed to criticise them for their ambition.

Of course, this lack of a distinct sound could eventually catch up with the group. Perhaps the future will require a more lean and directed approach for fear of creating diluted, essentially disposable music. But for now at least, John Wizards is hitting all the right spots and are sure to beguile listeners around the world with this one.

John Wizards self-titled debut is out now on Planet Mu

Patrick Henderson

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