Torii MacAdams is like Ol’ Blue Eyes, he does it his way

Blue-eyed soul is, unfortunately, alive and well. It’s hard to Yah-Mo-Believe audiences who don’t drive pickup trucks are still clamoring for crooning Caucasians. Robin Thicke remains in the public eye despite both making shitty music and being a simpering misogynist idiot. The Internet’s 90’s R&B nostalgia and revisionism has begotten the most vanilla stylings of How To Dress Well, who flatly ponders “What Is This Heart?” like a taxidermist given a dumpster full of spare animal parts. While many of their melanin-deprived peers are drawing inspiration from 3LW, Stones Throw’s Silk Rhodes are seeking to resurrect the smooth sexing on shag carpets of early 70’s soul. White voices in genres created by uniquely black experiences and musical traditions should be subject to examination; it’s understandable, even wise, to approach acts like Silk Rhodes and their self-titled debut with a degree of wariness.

Much of what makes blue eyed soul a largely repulsive subgenre is the, well, soullessness and the too-slick veneer. Silk Rhodes, who recorded some of their demos in a Honda CR-V, separate themselves from their rivals with a healthy dose of humanity. Even in its mastered state Silk Rhodes is pleasant in a manner that doesn’t feel cutesy or pandering. Michael Collins, the producer in the duo, has a good ear for minimalism, his work soulful without invading vocalist Sasha Winn’s space. Silk Rhodes’ PR recommends their album for fans of the Delfonics–a not entirely unfair comparison–though Collins’ production strips the symphonic qualities and leaves Winn with intentionally bare palettes. “This Painted World” manages to be rich with only guitar strumming, bass, sitar, and Winn’s harmonizing. Collins and Winn are noted fans of mind-bending hallucinogens, and “This Painted World” has Winn pleading “Girl, dry your eyes/ Now is the time, dematerialized/ Wipe off those tears/ There’s no such thing as reality.”

In an article for The Guardian, Paul Lester correctly noted that Winn’s voice is what may be make-or-break for listeners. Silk Rhodes succeeds in no small part to Collins’ Chi-Lite-lite work behind the boards, which does well to highlight Winn’s strengths (or weaknesses if you’re feeling ungenerous). My initial reaction to Silk Rhodes was that Winn was akin to D’Angelo, which proved to be an overestimation of the former’s range. Winn’s falsetto is satisfying, but lacks an extra degree of emotion and punch that marks the best vocalists. Still, technical mastery doesn’t necessarily make for the most interesting music; Winn is no Loleatta Halloway, but he equips himself nicely on the sassy disco tip-toeing of “Face 2 Face.” Silk Rhodes isn’t a very danceable album, but “Face 2 Face”’s chunky bass and clapping sounds make for a nice warmup track for both the party in your living room and the party in your pants.

At its core, Silk Rhodes is an album about relationships– not particularly shocking subject matter for a soul(ish) album. When Collins was asked by Interview Magazine about psychotropics, he noted that that life itself can be more surreal than drug-induced hallucinations, and that “the complexity, the surprises, and the deepness of it is inherently a psychedelic experience.” The perceived psychedelia of interpersonal relationships shines through in bits–particularly the aforementioned “This Painted World” and the excellent “Barely New”– but Silk Rhodes is more stoned sitar sessions than psych-rock freakouts.

The sonic world of Silk Rhodes is varied, from minimalist soul, to twinkling near-boogie (“The System”), to small hours disco. An array of tropes this wide would destroy the vibe of most albums, but Silk Rhodes operate with restraint and élan. While less skilled musicians fart around, content as 21st-century Hall & Oates clones, Silk Rhodes are digging a little deeper. Silk Rhodes aren’t blue eyed soul. They’re just soulful.

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