Sinkane, aka Ahmed Gallab, has picked up where he left off with 2014's Mean Love. On that record, he distilled his many influences into a coherent pop collection that embraced genres such as post-rock, Afro-beat, and soul. It was a marked progression in a career that revolved around his role as music director of the supergroup Atomic Bomb! Band, and as a session musician for such diverse artists as Caribou, Yeasayer, and Eleanor Friedberger until he embarked on his own solo recordings. Rather than develop his sound further on Life & Livin' It, Gallab seems content to coast with it for a while. And in many respects, that's not a bad thing, especially on the lead single "U'Huh." It contains all the elements that have made his music so engaging up to now: Afro-beat cadences, funky guitar licks, and his own soulful falsetto. In addition, it emits unrelentingly good vibes delivered with real groove, which makes it a wonderful antidote to uncertain times, and an early contender for a summer's anthem. Gallab has often evoked the music of Curtis Mayfield on his recordings, and it's a comparison that could be applied to tracks like "Fire," which conjures up '70s psychedelic soul. Its lyrics proclaim "I don't understand or know, at all, myself," as Gallab exposes some uncertainty, but musically he sounds decidedly assured. Although the album often deals with doubt, the lasting impression is that this is a hugely optimistic record. "Theme from Life & Livin' It" rests on an undulating bassline, rolling percussion, and punchy brass that frame a hopeful directive for living: "Live this life the way you want to be/Put out what you want to receive." Its vibrancy elevates and reinforces his claim that "It's my vision, my decision/Live this life that's mine." Disco is another genre that gets the Sinkane treatment. "Telephone" marries classic '70s disco rhythms with high-energy brass and subtle synth touches. "Favorite Song" is less successful at being a straight ode to the genre. The result is slightly akin to "Copacabana," and the vocal sounds a bit labored. Gallab is definitely more successful when he employs his highly expressive falsetto. The Afro-beat-funk of "Passenger" works, as does the reggae-infused melody of "The Way." Sinkane is most impressive when he updates all those '70s influences that permeate his music, like on "How We Be" from Mean Love. But more often than not on Life & Livin' It, he is too conservative with his obvious talents. On "Passenger" he sings "Cause if I don’t take control/I might never make it home/I'm a passenger..." and this time around it feels like he is coasting a little. Life & Livin' It isn't as rich as previous offerings have been; the delicate but effective nuances are replaced by a streamlined sound rolled out at the expense of his more imaginative compositions. That said, his influences are worn lightly, the melodies remain inventive, and there is a real elegance to Sinkane's music.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Bekki Bemrose