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BLK JKS: World Music With Teeth

The four members of the South African rock band BLK JKS (pronounced "Black Jacks") grew up in different parts of the country, speaking different tribal languages. And they listened to a wide range of music — everything from local rhythms to Sonic Youth to Duke Ellington. Those influences converge in a totally original sound on the group's full-length debut, After Robots.

Rock has had plenty of run-ins with African rhythm over the years. None of them can quite prepare you for the music of BLK JKS.

The four-piece band, based in Johannesburg, specializes in a shadowy, foreboding style of progressive rock that's distinctly African. Beneath fantastic tangles of electric guitar are superheated beats — rhythms that have roots in the "township jive" dance music that erupted in South Africa in the 1970s.

BLK JKS isn't some chipper world-music operation masquerading as a rock band. These guys think like rockers: The music's unruliness suggests that, and so do the songs about soul despair in the digital age. But check out how lively the pulse is. This band saunters right past the rhythmic ruts of most current rock. Its music is full of wild, totally unscripted lunges.

Not everything on BLK JKS' debut is super intense. The album's extended final track is almost a lullaby, retelling a South African fable about the ghosts and monsters who visit misbehaving children.

OK, sure, there's a degree of novelty at work here. The band is from South Africa, not exactly a rock mecca. And its sound can be summed up in the glib language of the mash-up — you know, "Here's what happens when loud guitars collide with deep African grooves." Listen closely, and you discover that BLK JKS has churned these influences into an organic, fiercely original sound.

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Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.