Sinkane, Hanna Benn
1811 14th St. NW
Washington, DC, 20009
Son Lux is the grand genre-less dream of Los Angeles composer Ryan Lott brought to roiling, vivid life with the help of two New Yorkers, guitarist Rafiq Bhatia and drummer Ian Chang. Each is a writer, producer, and performer with omnivorous taste and a penchant for wild improvisation—a bandwhose mix of electronic pop, unusual soul, and outright experimentalism feels more inviting than ever on the project's fifth album, Brighter Wounds. The songs therein leave behind Son Lux's typically universal themes fordeeply personal fare. While making Brighter Wounds,Lott became a father to a baby boy and lost a best friend to cancer. Days of "firsts" were also days of "lasts," and the normal fears that accompany parenthood were compounded by a frightening new reality—Lott's son arrived shortly after Election Day. These songs draw on all of that: warm reflections of a fading past, pain wrenched from a still-present loss, and a mix of anxiety and hope for a future that is promised to no one. Lott's voice, which ranges from ghostly whisperto choir-backed shout, is fittingly propelledby the trio's most dynamic score yet. Listen to the anthemic roar of "Dream State.” A yell blasts through a cloud of woodwinds and synths, and the song is off on a ceaseless tear. "Thoughwe are wide awake, this is a dream state," Lott sings through the technicolor haze, clinging to opposites. A momentary breath breaks the stride, before the journey resumes with even greater abandon. A choir enters the fray at the song's apex with a refrain heard elsewhere on the album: "out of the dark day, into the brighter night!"Launched in 2008 with At War with Walls & Mazes, Son Lux was initially a solo affair, the result of a classically trained mind straining against the constraints of the medium,turning piles of self-sourced note snippets into pulsing digital orchestras. Across 2011's We Are Risingand 2013's Lanterns, Lott maintained his auteur approach while broadening the Son Lux sound and guest list to unexpected results. The latter album drew the attention of several major pop acts, many of whom who incorporated moments from the album into their own works. Lorde even teamed up on a redux of "Easy," and covered the song on tour. In recent years, the project's list of collaborators has grown to include Woodkid, Moses Sumney, members of the Antlers, My Brightest Diamond, Olga Bell, and yMusic (who also contribute strings, winds, and brass to Brighter Wounds). Lott's extracurriculars have includedstarting a rap-pop-folk band with Sufjan Stevensand Serengeti called Sisyphus, and scoring films like The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigbyand Paper Towns. Bhatia and Chang, accomplished soloists and collaborators in their own right, were first brought on as touring musicians but soon found a home in SonLux, cowriting 2015's Boneswith Lott while on the road. Brighter Woundsinitiallytook shape remotely—the distance allowing Lott to sift through life-altering events—and was finalized together.
Sinkane music — every note of it — comes straight out of a generosity of spirit. Never has that spirit been on more vivid display than on the uplifting new album Life & Livin’ It. This is feel-good music for trying times, celebrating what makes life good without ignoring what makes it hard.
By the time they finished touring for their acclaimed Mean Love album in late 2015, Ahmed Gallab and the band had spread the gospel of Sinkane to the world, playing 166 shows in 20 countries. During the same period, he had also led The Atomic Bomb Band — the highly celebrated 15-piece outfit that played the music of elusive Nigerian electro-funk maestro William Onyeabor. The band included David Byrne, Damon Albarn, members of Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture, Jamie Lidell and legendary jazz musicians Pharoah Sanders and Charles Lloyd, and they played all over the planet, including making their TV debut on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. “Those 14 months really changed my life,” Ahmed says. “Not only did I learn how to put on a bigger show, but all that touring brought Sinkane closer as a band."
As Ahmed got into the depths of writing for Life & Livin’ It, he had a clear goal; to conjure the ups and downs of a universal experience, and have fun while doing it. “I would listen to my favorite records, like Funkadelic’s America Eats Its Young, and realize how great they made me feel. That carefree, light and fun feeling I was getting while writing this record is what I want everyone to feel when they listen to it."
Ahmed soon brought the band in to help with the material, testing the songs at a four-show residency of sold-out shows at Union Pool in Brooklyn where the audience’s reception fed the creative process. They toured throughout the summer before setting up shop at Sonic Ranch Studios in El Paso, Texas. Once again produced by Ahmed with lyrics and help from longtime collaborator Greg Lofaro, the album draws from the best elements of Sinkane’s previous records: the slinky funk and soul grooves are there, so are the sparkling melodies with roots in sub-Saharan Africa. With basic tracking played together live, the fun and immediacy of Sinkane’s live show is a central feeling of the recordings. Each one of the four members of Sinkane - bassist Ish Montgomery, drummer Jason Trammell, guitarist Jonny Lam and Ahmed – sing and contribute additional parts on the album, with Trammell contributing lyrics to “Theme from Life & Livin’ It,” and Lam helping with arrangements. Jas Walton and Jordan MacLean of Daptone recording artists Antibalas contributed horns.
In making a record that feels like this, Ahmed’s primary intention was to make music that is joyous, but also socially conscious when you scratch beneath the surface. The songs “U’Huh” and “Theme from Life & Livin’ It” conjure up the simple pleasures of hanging with friends, but there are heavier vibes in there. Ahmed says, “I remember listening to Bob Marley as a child. Dancing with my family in our living room and then my mother telling me what issues he was addressing, and that it was important to remember those things while listening. It made the music even better because it became about something more."
“Favorite Song” came about from Ahmed's experiences DJ’ing in New York. “As a DJ you’re always paying attention to the collective energy in the club. When you play a song that everyone knows, everybody is connected, lost in the music.” That song, along with “U’Huh”, has lyrics sung in Arabic, Ahmed's native tongue. “Kulu shi tamaam!” means “everything is great!” while “ya zol ya zain!” is a Sudanese term of endearment meaning “my beautiful friend.” “It’s really easy to understand the tone of those words," Ahmed adds. "They just feel good, you don’t have to know what they mean. It’s kind of like listening to Caetano Veloso or Jorge Ben — you don’t have to know Portuguese to feel what they’re saying.”
True to its name, Life & Livin’ It is an album about all kinds of experiences. When Ahmed Gallab sings, he sounds unafraid yet vulnerable. But while he once sang of feeling like he was on the planet Mars, Ahmed is now firmly grounded on Earth. He’s no longer searching for his home — he has created a home for himself. There’s a party there, and Life & Livin’ It is playing on the stereo. You are invited.