Nitin Sawhney

Beyond Skin

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Nitin Sawhney's Beyond Skin works on at least two levels. First, it's a plea against racism and war, relating, as Sawhney writes in the liner notes, that one's identity is defined only by oneself -- that identity is "beyond skin." Second, the music is an extremely accomplished blend of classical, drum'n'bass, jazz, hip-hop, and Indian elements. The album's political statements are seen most clearly in the samples imbedded in the beginning and ending of most tracks. Dealing with nuclear testing and identity, the samples are effective in setting the tone for the songs. The music is quite lush, featuring among other instruments, tablas, pianos, and cellos to equally beautiful effect. The production brings a crystal-clear polish to nearly every element in the mix, whether it's the passionate, intense vocals of the Rizwan Qawwali Group on "Homelands" or the stunning, impossibly gorgeous voice of Swati Natekar on "Nadia." The entire album is bathed in eclectic touches which never fail to maintain a poetic, accessible sense of charm and wonder. Rarely has electronic music been crafted with as much substance and style as it has on Beyond Skin. Sawhney travels back and forth between genres quite effortlessly. "Nadia" is as good a drum'n'bass track as one is likely to find. "Letting Go" suggests the coffee-table trip-pop of Morcheeba's Big Calm. "The Pilgrim" is moody, soul-searching hip-hop aided by the wiry vocals of Spek. "Tides" is an excellent, breezy jazz number suggesting Vince Guaraladi in his finest, most experimental moments. "Nostalgia" sounds like a more-relaxed Lamb. "The Conference" is a treat, featuring incredible vocal interplay that simply must be heard to be believed. "Beyond Skin," which opens and closes with a sample of Edward Murrow reading the poem "Now I'm become death," is a powerful conclusion to Sawhney's pacifistic vision. Accessible, frightening, emotional, and most-of-all accomplished, Sawhney's Beyond Skin is a remarkable album of rewarding, organic music.

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