SILK SONIC

The Power of Nostalgia

The acrobatic lead vocals and layering on elaborate backups, Silk Sonic delivers a stunning album that reminisces on the sounds of the 70s.

By Annette Guerra-Armendariz

Dynamic Duo 

Silk Sonic is composed of two of the best musicians in the game right now, Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak. What started as small jam sessions during downtime of the 2017 24K Magic Tour to creatively cultivate music together during quarantine, the duo Silk Sonic emerged. These two faces are not new to the music world, in which they are both established artists. Both are Grammy Award winning artists with very distinct musical styles. 

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Bruno Mars has released only a few albums, but some may argue (me) that they are all so masterfully crafted that he hasn’t made a bad song/album. He is a valuable artist in the music industry and “in his songs we see the whole history of melodic music you can dance to, from Tin Pan Alley to his beloved early-'60s pop to that '80s moment when new wave and R&B collided” (Powers). Mars is not new to being instrumental in his music colliding his inspirations in his craft. We can hear this party disco inspirations in “24K magic”, the house party 90s music in “Finesse” and more. Mars is a multi talented musician who plays many instruments and has insane control of his voice giving us soulful ballads with his beautiful falsettos. 

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Like Mars, Anderson .Paak is a multi talented artist with a very distinct voice of gritty vocals but can spit some rhymes. Paak’s discography is a good source of essentially good vibes. He releases feel good music which pairs perfectly with Bruno Mars’ style. Paak is not shy about where he draws his inspiration from as he has illustrated portraits of them on his chest. “​​At a time when hip-hop’s dominant mood is morose and minor-key, .Paak’s mission is to make people feel better” (Lynskey). Anderson is such an optimistic and humorous person despite his tumultuous life. 

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Curators of Funk

Both Paak and Mars have had their fair share of meeting and collaborating with many different artists both new school and old. However, their collaboration for this album solidifies the funkadelic sound for this project with the icon himself, Bootsy Collins. The Silk Sonic album is hosted by Bootsy Collins and features many contributions from him. Bootsy Collins is an iconic funk bassist and singer-songwriter who rose to fame alongside James Brown. Collins brings this whole album together with his narrations, stringing all the songs together. Collins also a main feature on the album’s “After Last Night” coinciding with Thundercat and Silk Sonic. Collins is referred to as one of the leading artists forging the sound and style that would be known as funk today in which is a hybrid of soul, R&B and jazz. With his star-shaped sunglasses, skinny leather pants and top hats, Bootsy’s signature style led him to become an icon of afrofuturism. This style is hard to miss in this album. 

Although the leading funk man in this album is Bootsy Collins, Paak and Mars don’t shy away from their other inspirations that they are paying homage to. “After one listen, my scorecard noted the crystalline guitar glissando best associated with Motown session musician Melvin “Wah Wah Watson” Ragin (see: Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” or Ragin’s own “Goo Goo Wah Wah”), the siren-like ARP synth from Kool and the Gang’s “Summer Madness,” a whiff of the chorus from the Ohio Players’ “Fire,” and the title of Rick James and Teena Marie’s magisterial “Fire and Desire” (released in 1981, but close enough)” (Scarano).  With every listen for me, I hear something new, a melody that’s familiar that I didn’t catch before. Most of the inspirations I’ve found from the album are taken from Earth Wind and Fire’s “After The Love Has Gone” that’s similar to “Blast Off” or Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” that’s similar to “Leave the Door Open.”

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The Power of Nostalgia & Silk Sonic

An Evening With Silk Sonic

Silk Sonic’s album is nothing short of feeling silky and smooth in it’s nine tracks.  With these 70s funk elements in mind, Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak planned each song with special intent. From every drum beat to vocal run, Paak and Mars both wanted this project to be nothing less than their vision. 

1. Silk Sonic Intro

The album starts with an exciting intro, “Silk Sonic Intro,” with Bootsy Collins giving a small narration. His voice is so soft while there is such an elevating feeling musically with the band and clapping. What’s so fascinating is Bootsy Collins actually naming the band before the first official song begins. 

4. After Last Night

As said before, “After Last Night”  is one of the few tracks that Bootsy is featured in. It is also important to note this is the only song with a feature in general which is Thundercat. The instruments on this track are key, specifically the filter they put on the bass to give it that funky sound.  The entirety of this track is a call-and-response where either Bruno Mars says one line and gives space for a response from Anderson .Paak.

7. 777

“777” is such a hype song and has the party sound of Bruno Mars. Immediately the instrumentation at the beginning of the song gives a James Brown feel, especially the screams in the middle of it. As the song plays, the song begins to be more complex with more instruments introduced. This is such a hyper song that feeds to both their fun personalities.

2. Leave The Door Open

The first song that was also their first single earlier in 2021, “Leave the Door Open,” starts off with smooth velvety vocals. “The slow rhythm .Paak maintains during the verses feels like something everyone should snap to while the quicker tempo of the chorus creates a feeling of mounting need as Mars begs to ‘leave the door open’ (Henry). The track sounds so effortless and entrancing a story of desire. It is such a great starter as they leave the door open to invite listeners to dive deeper. 

5. Smokin Out The Window

“Smoking Out the Window” still sounds romantic and smooth, however, it is essentially a diss track to their lover. This was also the last single they put out before the album.  Personally, the ad-libs in the beginning of the song make the track, but at the same time it pays homage to their funky ancestors. 

8. Skate

“Skate” is such a ray of sunshine that is so refreshing like iced lemonade on a hot day. In this song, they introduce some instruments that aren’t heard more from on the other tracks like the congas Bruno is playing. The pauses are so methodical in this song as they build up and lead to another beat. This track we can hear vividly how they mess with the rhythm of the track giving us a disco feel. I believe that this disco feel is accomplished because I personally think of a roller rink with that smooth feel good music they used to play that closely resembles the 70s. This song was the second track to be released as a single in late 2021. 

3. Fly As Me

“Fly As Me” immediately doesn’t shy away from the funk aspect as they start with the bass. Anderson leads this track as lead vocalist and Bruno backs him with harmonies. James Brown is definitely heavily influenced on this track as there are ‘funk screams’ placed after each verse. These screams were made famous by James Brown in which he did them in most of his performances such as "I Got You (I Feel Good)". This track makes you feel essentially fly or feel good about yourself. The theme of the song resembles “Superfly” by Curtis Mayfield in which was the final track of the soundtrack album for the blaxploitation film, Superfly.

6. Put On A Smile

Anderson’s softer and more gritty vocals shine on “Put On A Smile” which we don’t see often in his music. There is subtle contrast in between both Anderson and Bruno in which the grit of Anderson blends with Bruno’s creamy vocals. Throughout the song it builds up to a big proclamation in which Bruno is screaming (but beautifully) that he is sad but has to fake his smile. Bruno is leading the vocals and pulling us into each verse or section. The rain and thunder at the end adds to this moment of sadness. 

9. Blast Off

The last song, “Blast Off,” feeds into that psychedelic music that was famous during the 70s (hence the name of the song). Bootsy Collins was never shy about taking LSD and other drugs to ‘enhance’ his musical journey during the 70s. This track is such a trip literally in a sense that it builds and builds, taking us to new heights vocally and instrumentally. I believe their outro to the song is so interesting that Bruno says “can we take it higher” insinuating they are blasting off and the cherry to the album is Bootsy Collins ending the album saying “happy trials.” 

Consistency is Key

Silk Sonic's vision is fully executed from the music to everything but the music. From their wardrobe to their production design, Silk Sonic definitely did their homework and understood the assignment. In the few videos that they have made, each production is done beautifully with the velvet suits to the bedazzled glasses similar to Bootsy. Each video transports you to the time they are targeting. 

Leave The Door Open

In this video, Silk Sonic transports you to the studio in which they are recording the track. From the disco ball to the smooth vibes, the video looks effortless and merely focused on the music. The yellow tones of the video adds so much and yet it is so subtle.