Our second choice for Album of the Year 2021 sees the dream pairing of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak revisit the sounds of the 70s on a stunning set of soulful tracks.
The hype machine leading towards Silk Sonic’s much anticipated debut LP promised a fittingly silk-smooth collection of 70s revivalist tracks that radiated joyous soulful energy. The dream-team pairing of Mars and Paak did not disappoint. Luscious instrumentation combined with the explosive chemistry brought by the pairing meant that “An Evening with Silk Sonic” became a water-tight album of end-to-end bangers that, once heard, will never leave your head again.
Rothery Sullivan, Views Editor: Silk Sonic’s debut album An Evening with Silk Sonic has earned the place of the best album of the year in my mind – not because it’s my favorite – but because of the way it captures a feeling that I haven’t heard before in modern music. Although each song on the album offers a different feel – from the smooth music and lyrics of Leave the Door Open to the upbeat and jumpy rhythm of 777 – the album provides overall a vibe that has been much needed after the past couple years. Many artists this year have tapped into heavy emotions that were likely brought on by the isolation of the pandemic – think of Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, Adele and Lil Nas X to name a few. Instead of digging for raw emotions, An Evening with Silk Sonic captures a sense of excitement, joy and sensuality that has become a rarity in popular music. Listening to this album feels like coming home after a long stressful day and relaxing with your favorite person – it’s happy, it’s light, it’s soothing. It’s original, and each song sounds organically made – as a musician myself, I can feel the way that the songs were made from both Anderson Paak and Bruno Mars building off of each other’s talent. In one of his verses on Fly As Me – which is my favorite track on the album – .Paak describes his and Mars’ chemistry with the line, “Silk Sonic smooth like a mack, float like a butterfly on every single track” – I couldn’t say it better myself.
“An Evening with Silk Sonic captures a sense of excitement, joy and sensuality that has become a rarity in popular music.”
Lucy Fitzgerald, Film & TV Editor: If you weren’t looking to wallow in Sad Girl Autumn, An Evening With Silk Sonic – which graced Spotify album charts the same day as Red (Taylor’s Version) – presented a short and sweeter than sweet, cohesive nine track album that offered good vibes only. Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, both seasoned musicians respectively, united to form a new, aptly named soul/funk duo and release the most sonically vibrant record of 2021. The versatile-in-vibe AEWSS can be enjoyed when a party reaches peak verve or, equally, when in repose, alone in your room. Like scissors gliding through wrapping paper in one long cut, the record is a sustained sweet spot. In funk veteran Bootsy Collins’ service as “special guest host”, we find a warm, omniscient presence regulating the album’s atmosphere – his hypnotic narration is transcendent to the senses. AEWSS’s goal is gratification, the mission statement: unadulterated pleasure, as declared in Blast Off (“Destination pure sensation”).
“Like scissors gliding through wrapping paper in one long cut, the record is a sustained sweet spot.”
The jet fuel for the album is playful cockiness and the tank stays full. Igniting the party mood, the stirring one minute Intro feels like you are tracing the velvet rope of Studio 54’s foyer in 1978 and Bootsy Collins himself is beckoning you inside. Next, you get to revel in the jocular call-and-response serenade that is Leave The Door Open, where Mars’ penchant for melisma soars. Anderson enriches Fly As Me with peppy speak-sing, offering comedic inflections to his accented delivery, à la a 2010 B.o.B. .Paak dances with his musical phrasing, as if he is doing pas de bourrées or hopscotches across his verses. The chorus’ chanting, feeling-myself refrain, “I deserve to be! With somebody as fly as … me!”, is the ultimate reminder not to send that “you up?” text to your ex.
On the bittersweet Put On A Smile we witness a regretful partner lament a lost love in classic Motown sounds. The maximal celebration of 777 initially registers as a by-product of 24k Magic (Bruno’s delightfully sybaritic 2016 album) with its balls to the wall, wild-night-out-in-Vegas exuberance, but it is in fact a marinated evolution; one that truly makes me feel like I have entered the Ocean’s Eleven cinematic universe and am gloatingly making it in rain in Andy Garcia’s face. The penultimate Skate is straightforward in structure and lyrical meaning, operating as a tasteful and harmoniously horny invitation. And finally, the twinkly, galactic voyage of Blast Off (“Blastin off straight to some good vibrations, can we take it higher? Oh yeaaahhhh!”) impresses as if up until this point they have been ascending through the clouds and are now ready to boost into mesospheric rapture.
Silk Sonic’s ode to old school has distinguished finesse; like Sly Stone but hyper-energised. Bruno himself has never made any pretensions about his influences and the originality of his musical identity. I personally see him as a hybrid of James Brown and The Jacksons, sublimated into a contemporary artist. And in this body of work the combined star power of .Paak and Mars makes a compelling case for their fresh and distinct musical unit. AEWSS proves you can be all style and all substance.
Tomek Kutereba, Multimedia Editor: Ever since its release, I haven’t gone a single day without playing a track from An Evening with Silk Sonic. This album combines the mastery of two current day greats: Bruno Mars, who needs no introduction, returns from his five year exile following his chart topping, award winning album 24k Magic, and Anderson .Paak, one of the most underrated musicians/rappers within the current hip-hop landscape.
“It’s clear from listening that this is the product of two passionate artists constantly pushing each other to be better.”
Although .Paak certainly has the cred, it’s amazing to see him get a top billing on such a large, mainstream project. And the drumming and vocal work he provides on the record truly elevates it. The two mesh well together, and it’s clear from listening that this is the product of two passionate artists constantly pushing each other to be better, and above all to have more fun.
The record is chock full of glorious 70s throwback sounds, from Motown tributes to proto-RNB, all the while being incredibly funky and groovy. Highlights for me being Smoking Out The Window, After Last Night, and the more hip-hop tinged Fly As Me and 777 in which .Paak and Mars take turns taking centre stage, rapping over slick bass grooves and tight drum patterns. I’ve never been to Vegas, but 777 makes me want to rack up a huge amount of debt.