It seems that with each release from Die Antwoord, the same questions need to be asked: Does the band rely too much on shock tactics? Is it taking shots at or upholding an overly macho EDM/hip-hop stance? Part of the fun of listening to a Die Antwoord record, though, is attempting to answer these questions, because the band doesn’t provide any easy answers. On their latest, Donker Mag, the duo of Ninja and Yo-Landi continue to revel in depravity alongside pummeling, bass-heavy productions.
Donker Mag, if nothing else, is a gold mine of song titles. Each lets listeners know that few of the themes or melodies throughout the record are going to be delivered with dulcet tones; the gloriously off-kilter titles suit the music they contain. “Cookie Thumper!” is an organized mess of industrial production elements, a chaotic arrangement that manages to be anchored by Yo-Landi’s Tinkerbell-meets-Chucky bravado vocals. She’s the star of the show on most of the tracks here, her confidence and staccato delivery completely infectious, and consistently keeps the more experimental and jarring elements from derailing the whole record. She’s in your face on the rave epic “Happy Go Sucky Fucky,” where she slyly moves between whispered and shouted verses. Then she trades explicit lines with Ninja on the provocative, and admittedly kind of hilarious, “Girl I Want 2 Eat U.” It’s one of the finest examples of Die Antwoord exploring the tension between ultra-masculine parody and perpetuation.
While most of the record manages to balance out its aggressive tendencies by using a sense of humor and dynamics to create compelling EDM-rap, like on “Girl I Want 2 Eat U,” the album has its fair share of tracks that fall flat, chiefly due to the bevy of genres they attempt to incorporate. “Rat Trap 666” is an uninspired, downbeat trap track, a sound at odds with Die Antwoord’s more spastic vocal tendencies. “Ugly Boy” is a sluggish EDM track, a bubbling synth line that’s too warm compared to the harsh, urgent delivery from Ninja. Still, Die Antwoord manages to pull off one downtempo gem, the mid-album highlight “Strunk,” which sounds like a child’s ballerina music box brought to life by a midnight séance. Ninja and Yo-Landi weave a tale of how love makes for feeling “strunk” (i.e., stoned and drunk), resulting in an intimate, sadistic, and witty ode to conflicted love. It’s suitably emblematic of the rest of Donker Mag, which, despite the occasional dud, is filled with provocative, compelling, out-there productions and boasts a real confidence in its creative vision.