PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Sinkane: Mean Love

To a large degree, the last year in music has been about the triumph of the smooth.


Mean Love

Label: DFA
US Release Date: 2014-09-02
UK Release Date: 2014-09-01

To a large degree, the last year in music has been about the triumph of the smooth. Of course, smooth never went away. Within major label R&B, it’s always been a valuable currency, from Luther Vandross to R. Kelly to D’Angelo to Mario to Trey Songz. But smooth has been big in a different way for over a year now, with groups at every level of pop—small bands on indie labels (Rhye, inc.), major country acts (Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert), inescapable radio hitmakers (Pharrell)—declaring musical kinship with the prettiest sounds of the ‘70s and ‘80s: Sade and Steely Dan, quiet storm R&B and yacht rock. Sinkane’s new album, Mean Love, attempts to broaden the pool of prettiness that artists can draw on. He’s lobbying for the inclusion of bossa nova, sweet reggae, and country.

Sinkane (real name Ahmed Gallab) is on the label DFA, co-founded by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, so he has roots in an indie scene committed to vigorous dancing. But that doesn’t tell you much about his music—he doesn’t sound like his label mates in the Juan Maclean, who are also putting out an album in September. Sinkane has little interest in compelling movement. Mean Love is his third album, and it expands the mix of soul and African funk he toyed with on Mars, his previous release.

This is an artist who has never been interested in hiding his touchstones. The first notes on the album sound like an electric keyboard, which set the tone for so much sweet ‘70s soul, and that thing gurgles throughout. (Though at a few points, it takes on a much rougher texture that sounds like it was stolen from a Betty Davis recording session, as on “Yacha”.) The opening song, “How We Be”, moves into a mid-section that riffs off Curtis Mayfield’s hit “Superfly”. The title track, with an easy soul groove, could be from the first couple Mayer Hawthorne albums.

But again, Sinkane’s trying to show kinship between pretty sounds from all over. “Yacha” features some Temptations-worthy call and response, where much lower harmonies counter Sinkane’s high vocal. While this is happening, a heavy Jamaican progression bubbles underneath. This creates a smooth transition into the next track, “Young Trouble”, with its high, wordless harmonies and steady reggae groove. “Moonstruck” builds around a cleanly strummed guitar, evoking the tender fragility of bossa nova.

Of course, Sinkane is not the only one with an appreciation of the smoothness of music from Jamaica and Brazil. For several weeks this summer, the song “Rude”, by Magic!, sported a reggae riff at the very top of the charts. Stealing from bossa nova is common in smooth jazz and “adult contemporary”; Robin Thicke does it at least once an album. Ben Watt, who put out his first solo album in 30 years several months ago, is also famous for his Brazilian-styled guitar playing.

But Magic! and Robin Thicke haven’t recorded country ballads as of yet. Sinkane’s “Galley Boys” relies on one of country’s most devastating tools: the inimitable tone of pedal steel guitar. “If you have to try, maybe you’d better try,” sings Sinkane, sounding like he’s been listening to a whole slew of classic Nashville recordings (plus a healthy dose of Neil Young and the Band).

There are more exciting things happening on R&B’s front lines. The song “Y.A.S.,” from Trey Songz’ recently released Trigga, sounds thoroughly contemporary while channeling a whole world of mean, mean love. (“Y.A.S.” stands for “You Ain’t Shit”.) But Sinkane isn’t aiming for the vanguard. Mean Love never fails to be smooth, and it displays a particular kind of open ear. For some, that will be enough.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.