Album Review: An Evening With Silk Sonic // Silk Sonic

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It’s fairly reasonable to say that for teen heart-throb turn retro funk singer Bruno Mars and fellow American rapper and drummer Anderson .Paak, their latest record An Evening With Silk Sonic as newly formed supergroup Silk Sonic has been a long time coming.

For Mars, it’s been five years since he released the highly successful 24K Magic and in that time .Paak has put out two records (Oxnard and Ventura) and toured extensively with his backing band The Free Nationals across the globe. Most importantly, .Paak supported Mars on his 24K Magic tour in Europe where a budding friendship began to take fruition and now has culminated into one of the most exciting musical collaborations of 2021.

Conjuring a love letter to early ‘70s R&B and Soul, An Evening With Silk Sonic sees Mars and .Paak invite listeners to indulge in a rich sound of crooning vocals, gorgeously embellished harmonies, funk inflected brass and luscious strings. The result is one of the best and most fun listening experiences that this year has to offer.

After a brief one minute introduction that gets the groove going with hand-clips, dizzying bass guitar playing and loud horns, we immediately transition into the album’s lead single, ‘Leave the Door Open’. Inspired by the subgenre known as quiet storm, it’s a wonderful opening slow jam that features tongue-in-cheek verses from .Paak (“And if you’re hungry girl, I’ve got some filets”) and delicate vocals from Mars as they sing for the loving affections of their significant others.

Consistently, the production on An Evening with Silk Sonic is nothing short of immaculate. As aforementioned, the soundscape conjured by both singers and fellow producer D’Mile pays homage to artists like Parliament Funkadelic, Smokey Robinson and The O Jays. However, what elevates it from becoming watered down retro pastiche like Doja Cat’s ‘Say So’ is an insane level of detail that’s been equally applied to every song on the album. Whether it’s the opening string refrain of ‘Skate’ has a tinge of Barry White’s Can’t Get Enough of You, Babe’ or the cheesy flexatone hit at the start of ‘Fly As Me’, the pair’s intricate approach creates a timeless quality to the record but in a manner that’s self-knowing for the listener. Even the inclusion of ‘Blaster of the Universe’ himself Bootsy Collins as the album’s host is a cheeky postmodern wink in of itself as he pops up throughout with words of wisdom or brief quips like “toodledoo” from ‘After Last Night’.

For the most part, An Evening with Silk Sonic offers escapism with its seductive ballads and upbeat dance floor ready hits. However if you’re searching for a deeper listening experience within this genre like Stevie Wonder’s socially conscious Innervisions or Kendrick Lamar’s politically charge To Pimp a Butterfly, you might have taken the wrong turn.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of impact that cut through the album’s swaggering charisma. ‘Put On A Smile’ finds both singers at their most vulnerable with Mars producing his strongest vocal performance to date as they sing about holding up a facade since breaking up with their fictional partners by “trying to be the life of the party” and putting on a smile even if “there’s only so much a man can fake”. On the concluding track ‘Blast Off’ which has some implicit drug-taking undertones (“I took a little somethin to get here, yeah, yeah”), there’s a fantastic usage of reverb and subtle key modulation on the outro that I found utterly entrancing as though Mars and .Paak are literally taking the party into an otherworldly place.

Even though the album is opting for style over substance, there are plenty of surprises both lyrically and instrumentally that will keep listeners returning for future helpings. But with style being delivered through this level of musicianship—Thundercat’s delicious bass slaps in ‘After Last Night’, .Paak gleefully crooning a line like “Just the other night she was grippin’ on me tight/screamin, ‘Hercules’” in ‘Smokin Out the Window’, the punchy horn lines on ‘777’ or the infectious congas played by Mars on ’Skate’—it’s tremendous. 

Listening to An Evening With Silk Sonic is like uncovering a long forgotten gem in a vintage record store that hasn’t been appreciated until now; it feels part of its time without falling into blank parody. With a tracklist of only nine songs, it doesn’t outstay its welcome which is refreshing in an era where high profile releases are almost feature length. Crucially for the listener, it’s fantastically enjoyable.

Words by Theo Smith


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