Culture Pick: ‘An Evening With Silk Sonic’ takes us back in time

Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriters Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak have come together to create an effortlessly unique sound with their new R&B duo, Silk Sonic.

The duo’s debut album, “An Evening with Silk Sonic,” was released on Nov. 12, and, true to the duo’s name, features nine vintage R&B tracks that bring sonic beats together with silken, organic vocals.

The project grew out of improvisational sessions between Mars and .Paak during Mars’ 24K Magic tour. Working backwards from .Paak’s drum beats, they began collaborating on a series of tracks that eventually grew into one of the most anticipated albums of the year.

Mars and .Paak, both individual Grammy winners with musical resumes stretching several miles long, took things a step beyond making stylistic and lyrical choices to replicate the sounds of ’70s R&B.

According to Pitchfork, in addition to using particular drum skins to better replicate a more retro sound, the duo stuck to period-specific instruments and used only one or two microphones for the entire room of musicians.

This physical closeness displayed in the recording booth is heard and felt on tracks like “Leave the Door Open,” “Put On a Smile” and “Fly As Me.”

Their reverence for the ’70s funk sound extends to their collaborators on the project as well. Early sessions between the duo involved Nile Rodgers, the legendary guitarist behind Chic’s “Good Times,” one of the most highly sampled and influential songs in R&B and hip-hop.

Bootsy Collins, the revered bassist of Parliament-Funkadelic, serves as the project’s host, guiding the listener through the album’s narrative.

One of the album’s high points, “After Last Night,” features Thundercat, the progressive R&B artist who has spent his career building the classic funk sound behind the project. His feature on bass and backing vocals fits perfectly, bridging the gap between the classics and modern icons of the genre. 

Silk Sonic appeared to have ignored most radio trends, instead channeling timeless groovy glamor from the heyday of funk and soul. 

No amount of technical brilliance or musical talent can replicate the chemistry and mutual respect between .Paak and Mars, which is arguably what makes the album seem like the two have been singing together for years.

In an interview with Apple Music, .Paak said working with Mars on a musical project was like using a “cheat code” to rise straight to the top of the music charts.

Silk Sonic has not yet announced a second album or any tour plans for 2022, though Mars has effectively come out of hiding with a few shows slated for early December.

Questions? Email the Culture desk at culture@cw.ua.edu.