Given his origins as Run DMT and the acid tongue LP cover, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Michael Collins’ new project Silk Rhodes would be a dazed, druggy affair. Maybe it’s the influence of vocalist Sasha Desree, though, or the album’s genesis as a literally recorded on the road affair, but the only tripping going on on Silk Rhodes is nostalgia-based, as the duo and their collaborators mine ’80s electro-funk and dusty soul for one of the slinkiest, sexiest works this side of D’Angelo this year. Sensual and teasing, Silk Rhodes may not be the most profound album to emerge this year, but Collins and Desree’s dedication to cheekily reconfiguring audio memories makes it a charmingly indulgent seducer.
Apparently partially recorded via a car tape deck while travelling, the nostalgia factor of Silk Rhodes heightened by the recording quality’s hissy, tape-like quality, making this a work where the nostalgia is warmer because of the lengths it took to create its atmosphere. Early on, “Face 2 Face” emphasizes this, with its tinny take on Daft Punk guitars and a paradoxically lush, full bassline. Desree’s vocals first enter the fray in the form of throaty moans and coos, his lead turn appearing as a near falsetto complaining about how there’s too much fun to be had. It’s too dirty in its fidelity to get too dangerously close to Chromeo territory, but too fun to fall prey to chillwave slack. Desree takes the falsetto even further on the Shuggie Otis-like “This Painted World,” where frenetic beats are dropped in favor of heavy atmosphere, wordless backing vocals supporting Desree’s high ranged delivery as a gorgeous guitar line fills out the open spaces.
The band delivers on its name with tracks like “Realtime,” though, where Desree’s vocal shares the spotlight with a delicious sounding Rhodes riff and an ancient sounding beat. “Hold Me Down” brings the tempo down several notches and has the Rhodes joined by some bright bells (maybe a toy piano?) but it’s darkly effective, providing a somber alternative to the LP’s otherwise more party oriented focus. It’s also one of the best showcases of Desree’s range, as he ditches the falsetto for a smoky, low rumble, stating “I’ll never stop fucking with you” in a way that makes it unclear if it’s a threat or foreplay.
It’s not for nothing that the album’s best moment is “Pains,” another of these dark, low tempo numbers, except in that instance the Rhodes is ditched in favor of a ghostly organ, tremolo’d vocals and guitar and lush synth strings. “Pains” is a flip on the album’s normal narrative, Desree mourning the ending of something great rather than talking up his prowess or promises of what moves he’s about to break out in velveted bedrooms. The structure of pains is also different from the rest of the album, not so neatly broken out into verses and choruses, instead offering a series of shifting moods and bridges, counter-melodies on vocals and guitar providing more of the changes than actual chords. If there’s a hook to it, it’s the ascending melody that pops up on chiming vibes while everything but Desree drops out, declaring “All things must change.” The song mostly sustains a mood, but it’s a wonderful mood, fitting for any number of emotions, from nostalgia to longing to heartbreak.
The only drawback to “Pains” is that it’s more delicately arranged than the rest of the tracks, hinting that under less spontaneous circumstances Silk Rhodes could be closer to the D’Angelo level than most of their equally nostalgic electro-soul brethren. Consider this album as a hint of what’s to come, foreplay for a more explosive climax or at least a deliciously sustained plateau.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover