Well, this is different. It gets a bit tiring discovering that every single album of this reviewer’s ‘audition’ pile is rootsy guitar-driven Dad-rock, just as it would if every single disc was a variation on house, or shoe-gaze (or dream-pop, or whatever they’re calling it this week).
What I’m getting at is that Life & Livin’ It (despite the rather crap title) is the kind of record that listeners bored with genre straitjackets might just find stimulating. Project manager for Sinkane is Ahmed Gallap, a Sudanese bandleader whose music attempts to blend a surprising array of styles on his third album under the moniker, and most of the time, it works.
It’s perhaps not surprising to find that there’s a smattering of the desert-dry Saharan groove on some tracks, but more important is the way he’s recorded big fat slabs of funk, and mixed them with ambient textures and electronic modulations to bizarre but frequently pleasing effect. And that’s just on the first track, ‘Deadweight’.
Actually, let’s linger a bit longer on this piece, because it’s symbolic of what comes after, although the rest is never just a repetition of what goes down here. ‘Deadweight’ does, however, establish a template. Where many bands somehow, despite the technology that’s available to them, end up delivering a thin, mushy drum and bass sound, Sinkane’s rhythms are killer: crisp, deep, plenty of slam, heaps of heft. Then there’s the singing, which defines the album just as clearly as the grooves. I’m not sure if Gallab is the lead vocalist, or if that’s Greg Lofaro, who is credited with most of the words, but he’s got a delightful, sweet falsetto that’s also capable of swooping down to take care of edgier emoting. Not that his voice is often left to fend for itself; one of the delightful facets of this album is the layering of voices, which remind this old fart of that great Long Beach band, War.
Elsewhere on the album, there are Afro-style grooves (‘U Huh’), disco rhythms (‘Favourite Song’), Shaft-style Blaxploitation soundalike chugga-chugga (‘Fire) and the last track, ‘The Way’, even goes the whole hog in its full-on, heady Afro-jazz jam with its added horns and flute.
It’s so easy to be won over by this album so completely that you forget to deal with its flaws, but ‘The Way’ actually hints at what could have been. On many of the tracks, cheap and cheesy keyboards set to ‘horn’ take the place of the real thing, and although there’s certainly something cheerful about a bargain basement keyboard sound, there’s nothing like a real horn section. [Author note: Sinkane later told me via Twitter that these are actually real horns, so I stand corrected!] Then there’s the lyrics, which also have a certain cheese-factor, and on occasion, seem rather too tailor-made for willing WOMAD audiences to sing-a-longa-Sinkane.
Still, I got past that mild annoyance by fairly successfully ignoring the words, and concentrating on the music, because there’s plenty to take in.
Gallap grew up in England, and he’s obviously ingested a huge amount of disparate music in his lifetime thus far, much of which has in some way made it onto Life & Livin’ It. Some may not be happy to note the influence of Pink Floyd’s melancholy drift (which actually sounds closer to Porcupine Tree’s appropriation of PF) along with the hipper styles soaked and smoked for his vivid concoction. Personally, I’m old enough and ugly enough not to care, to love it for what I love about it, and ignore what I don’t.
Solid effort. Sounds most excellent on a good stereo. GARY STEEL
[Note: Gary Steel reserves the right to reappraise and alter his star ratings up or down at any time].