With so much of modern popular music having become so pan-global, it’s almost no longer worth even noting when an artist makes use of non-western rhythms, melodies or styles. And yet despite its widespread proliferation, there is still an air of the exotic when artists look to Africa, the Middle East or even Asia for inspiration. There’s just enough of the foreign present in these artists for Western listeners to perceive them as something beyond that with which they are most familiar. Because of this, there is a tendency to overvalue those operating within an unfamiliar stylistic framework, deeming something worth greater consideration and/or praise simply because it sounds new and different to your ears.

Case in point being the latest release from Sinkane, an album that relies on Afrobeat grooves and ideas cast within an indie/electronic/dance framework in an attempt to present itself as something novel, new and/or different. Yet Life & Livin’ It largely sticks to the same Afro-electro-pop framework established on Ahmed Gallab’s 2014 release under the Sinkane moniker, Mean Love. It’s clearly an aesthetic within which he is quite comfortable, so much so that here he more often than not borders on complacency. So relaxed and confident is the majority of Life & Livin’ It that it lacks any sort of lasting impression, each song passing by pleasantly and competently enough yet ultimately failing to resonate on any larger level.

Hints of Afropop rhythms and West African melodies abound, wrapped in Gallab’s modernist take on the form, allowing for club-friendly accessibility as well as the potential for broader commercial appeal. Impeccably produced and arranged, there is nary a note out of place throughout the whole of Life & Livin’ It’s 38-minute running time. But because of this, there’s an almost antiseptic quality to the music. It’s so sunny, polished and free from any sort of dirt and grit that it ultimately proves to be lacking in a definable, individualized character. This could just as easily serve as the promotional soundtrack for a cruise line, vacation destination or anti-depressant commercial (see “Favorite Song” for perhaps the best example of these qualities).

There’s a piercing, almost crystalline purity to Gallab’s unfettered tenor vocals. Forgoing any sort of rough edges, his is a sound polished to an impossibly smooth sheen. Unlike other soul and neo-soul vocalists, he lacks any sort of discernible grain in favor of a vocal purity that’s the aural equivalent of plain white paper; there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, rather there’s simply nothing truly memorable on offer.

Lyrically, Gallab seems content to rely on clichés and obvious rhyme schemes rather than attempt to have anything worthwhile to say. Much like the music itself, the lyrics float by predictably innocuously, here and gone with little in the way of lasting impression on offer. “You must be alone/ Why else you callin’ on the phone?” he intones over and over on “Telephone.” “If I don’t take control/ I might never make it home/ I’m a passenger,” he sub-philosophically muses on “Passenger.”

“Fire” rides a gently propulsive disco/funk groove that underscores Gallab’s soaring, smooth falsetto. Again, unfortunately, he delivers an inane set of lyrics: “Fire/ Take me higher/ Don’t take me away/ From where I stay”. It’s about as aggressive as Life & Livin’ It gets – which isn’t saying much – and because of this, it sticks out from the rest of the largely inoffensive material herein. Similarly, “Theme from Life & Livin’ It” manages something of an individualistic identity thanks to its reliance on heavily syncopated, almost muted horns and a vocal melody delivered in dueling octaves. Were it not for these slight departures from the norm, they would simply slip into the background along with the rest of the album. Life & Livin’ It isn’t necessarily a bad album, rather it simply lacks the necessary vitality for this to be a life being lived worth reflecting or remarking upon.

  • Sinkane: Mean Love

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