Ahmed Gallab’s musical background is rich and varied. Over the past decade, Gallab has worked with a number of prominent US indie groups from across the musical spectrum. A multi-instrumentalist, Gallab has recorded and performed with amongst others, Caribou, Of Montreal and, perhaps most prominently, Yeasayer. It is his work with the cerebral Brooklyn band though that most obviously feeds into his solo moniker, Sinkane. The wealth of influences, experiences and sounds that Gallab has built up over years of travelling the world playing with disparate musicians, added to his African heritage, gives his second full length album as Sinkane a sound akin to a melting pot of musical styles. While it is a potent mix, it is only partly successful.
Gallab has spent much of the last few years performing with Yeasayer, there is a strong correlation between their abstract pop and Sinkane’s opaque take on groove based experimentalism. The link also manifests itself physically in the presence on drums of touring Yeasayer drummer Jason Trammell and with the guest appearance of their bass player Ira Wolf, who features on the spacey psychedelic funk of Jeeper Creeper, which itself channels Yeasayer’s own 2080. Sinkane’s take on funk though is abstract and opaque. This is funk music that bears little connection to James Brown et al; rather this is funk music through a woozily translucent filter.
Lyrics and vocals are largely negligible throughout. There are words, with vocals provided by Gallab, but they are seemingly there merely as functional accompaniments. This album is all about the grooves and rhythms. When it works, as on the clattering rattle of the thrilling opener Runnin’, the rhythms are impossibly infectious and danceable. At its worst, however, too many songs are aimless and formless, with noodling guitar lines dominating. The heavily vocodered Lady C’mon is a distinct low in comparison with the album’s few genuinely excellent tracks.
Gallab’s musical approach is defined by a commitment to try to push boundaries of the genres he is operating in. On Mars, he adapts his sound to psych jams, abstract free jazz, tropical pop and dirty disco funk. When almost all of these come together, it is a beautiful moment. Making Time is the highlight of the album by a distance. An incredibly percussive piece, it morphs from an insidious groove to rock monster via an excellent Prince-like guitar solo played by George Lewis Jr, aka Twin Shadow.
As the album progresses, accessible moments become fewer as it spirals off into experimental territory. There is interest to be had in the off kilter horns, provided by Ann Arbor afro funk collective Nomo, and wildly fluttering flutes on Lovesick, but these pieces struggle to make a real impression. The album concludes on two wildly abstruse pieces of music. Title track Mars is a maddening piece of meandering free jazz while Caparudi is a slow and ponderous jam, which is only enlivened by a lovely saxophone line in its closing minutes.
There is a great deal of music here that showcases Ahmed Gallab’s musical dexterity and skills as an arranger, but it is slightly unsatisfying as a cohesive and lucid album. Nevertheless, there remains much to recommend in Sinkane’s experimental vision.