As someone who writes a bit about music, I'm entitled to an opinion about it and you can choose to disagree. I reckon 2012 was a massively underwhelming year for the popular art form, full of releases primed for the download generation, stymied by filler and adopting en masse a risk free, generic, after you policy of being the least worst option. There were exceptions of course, notably from the likes Efterklang, Django Django and Falty DL, but the levels of unwarranted enthusiasm surrounding the release of a new track from David Bowie and the fact that the hottest tickets in town were for the one remaining quarter of Kraftwerk should tell you all you need to know about the lack of a sustainable talent pool.
Of course, new bands will emerge in 2013, new bands always do. If there's any justice (a cliché I've always promised myself I'd never put in ANY review I ever wrote) Sinkane should be one of them, not because they have the skinniest jeans and all the right remix credits, but because they're actually really good. Normally when a critic says that it means they satisfy the hack's need for hipness by association, but although Mars will probably get very good reviews in all the right places, they win because they're diffidently making something that satisfies body and soul, a rare quality amongst the previously mentioned homogeneous mass of banjo/synth toss.
Well, I say Sinkane are a band, but that's only true when on the road. At home they're just Ahmed Gallab, who created most of this second album himself, reportedly playing at least four instruments on each track. The son of two exiled Sudanese parents who moved to the US in 1989, he lived an itinerant existence as a youth, eventually washing up in Ohio, where he became the only skate punk loving Muslim in his school year. All this was the unlikely basis for a post college career which has consisted of building the Sinkane project whilst playing with the likes of Caribou, of Montreal and Yeaysayer (some of which guest here). Which brings us up to date, more or less.
In itself, Mars offers little of what you could call innovative, but Gallab's inspired use of disparate musical threads means that its uniqueness is in refusing to be a slave to these influences and, by extension, making it far greater than the sum of familiar parts. Opener Runnin' is chock full of wah wah effects, subtle Rhodes and vocals which make the whole thing oddly (and obliquely) reminiscent of the Steve Miller Band's Fly Like An Eagle. It's perhaps also understandable that there's also a skewed afro pop strand on display, one which dominates the swing - this is a record that has you reaching for odd metaphors - of Jeeper Creeper, a song which takes the Ivy League dissolution of Vampire Weekend and replaces it with a gentle but urgent funk undertow and a vaguely hallucinogenic resonance.
These are straightforward moments by comparison. Lady C'Mon is angular, vocoder heavy and riddled with a dirty pole dancing sleaze, probably doubling up as Bambi and Thumper's grind of choice. Making Time alternatively beams with cosmic vibes and dream pop cadences that are abruptly short circuited by, in order of appearance, a sax break followed by a raking guitar solo that would make Carlos Santana weep. As you can probably guess, the appeal here is hard to capture in words, but the fiercely jam ideals of the title track can't do anything but conjure fascination; in re-imagining the spirit of experimentation so loved by the art school drop outs of the post punk era, Gallab comes closer to its Id than almost any other of the current crop of revisionists.
And then there's yet another curve ball. On the final track Caparundi the singer manages to capture the slurred urbanity of Bryan Ferry in his voice, whilst over seven minutes the slowest of build ups fuses Latin soaked flute and corpulent brass into a free-wheeling three a.m. chassis that belongs somewhere in a banana republic cantina. A master-stroke of driven restraint, it's as unconscious of current Zeitgeists as anything you'll hear all year, much like the rest of Mars, a collection of songs defined by their unconformity, both with themselves and each other. It's time for music to start delivering the thrills once more. Sinkane could be the cipher.
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