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Belle Époque–Sinkane’s “Mean Love”

Mean Love
DFA Records

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You’ve got to love it when a record just grabs you by the earlobes right off the bat. An unexpectedly grooving opening track produces a certain type of giddiness in a music obsessive. Think waking up on your birthday as a kid.

Now, put some headphones on and listen to this shit right here.

The opener on Sinkane’s Mean Love is one of those smile inducing grooves that you just want to bathe in as you bob your head. “How We Be” is a throw back dressed in modern instrumentation. “Oh, we’ve got life right in our pocket / Oh, it’s been right up our sleeve.” It’s good. You listen to that and just rub your hands at the prospect of a whole record of sonic birthday cake. But, while Mean Love doesn’t quite live up to the promise of this single, there is a whole lot of goodness here.

Sinkane is the current project of Sudan-born, now New York based, multi-instrumentalist Ahmed Gallab. He’s had stints with Caribou and Yeasayer, and released three previous albums along with a smattering of singles and EP’s since 2008. Dude is no slouch.

The first couple tracks after “How We Be” do, admittedly, fall a little flat. But Mean Love is built around a center of undeniably solid material. The album’s fifth track, recalling at first “Girl from Ipanema,” manages to do what may well be Sinkane’s defining strength as a songwriter: it takes the vintage sound out for a ride in a fully equipped pleasure yacht. “Moonstruck,” for all its island infused wistfulness, somehow finds its center in the flock of chirpy synthesizers that dart around throughout the song. Well, that and the painfully pretty chorus that opens up toward the end. “Ma lune, je t’aime / Your face and pull, je t’aime.” This song just destroys me. At times, though, Gallab seems to lean a bit too heavily on his silky falsetto, enchanting as it is. In the beginning of the title track, “Mean Love,” Gallab’s voice is trying to carry more of the compositional weight than it can sustain. Which isn’t to say that you’re not going to want to listen to this one over and over too. The song quickly morphs into a catchy doo-wop number that even features some jangly, honky-tonk guitar. “You know I love you but you’re mean to me.” This is followed by a strong dose of neo-soul heart-ache. “Hold Tight” belongs in a movie montage over on-screen shots of spurned lovers gazing longingly out of windows, plenty of candles in the background.

Whatever its faults, the tracks that hit on Mean Love hit hard. Get on this one.