On Nov. 12, Silk Sonic, the new R&B-fusion duo formed by Grammy winners Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, released their highly anticipated debut album, “An Evening with Silk Sonic.” The album features songs with the characteristic retro catchiness that put hits like “Uptown Funk,” Mars’ best-selling song to date, on the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 straight weeks. Silk Sonic delivers plenty of new ‘70s funk and soul-inspired earworms, as well as some notable music video performances released ahead of the full album.
From smooth-as-butter vocals to over-the-top music video performances and aesthetics, “An Evening with Silk Sonic” delivers more than a collection of decently catchy tracks. The album, which definitely lives up to its massive pre-release hype, creates an immersive experience that takes listeners and viewers back to the comfort of an earlier era without feeling regressive or stale. Mars and .Paak have repackaged the aesthetics of the ‘70s into something that translates to the 2021 listener. “An Evening with Silk Sonic” embraces nostalgia and reignites fans’ faith in the healing power of soul.
How Silk Sonic Began
The smooth-running, two-headed machine that is Silk Sonic can be traced back to 2016 when Mars and .Paak met on the European leg of the 24k Magic World Tour. .Paak said, “I was opening for the 24K Magic tour, and a week in, we were in the studio.” Over the next few years, the pairs’ collaboration cooled until the pandemic hit.
“I’m not sure we would have done it if it wasn’t for the pandemic,” .Paak told Rolling Stone. “It was tragic for so many people, but Bruno would have probably been on the road, me too — but we had to be here.” During the upheaval of quarantine, the two artists finally had the time to invest in their partnership. They ultimately joined the ranks of the many people who started quarantine passion projects.
Mars recalled this period: “I don’t know what year it is. I’m not looking at the charts. So we’d just come here every night, have a drink, and we play what we love.” This love of music shines through the album, which is deeply soothing in spite of the tragic time it was conceived in. The upheaval of the early pandemic encouraged the two to return to their original ‘60s and ‘70s inspirations, and they ended up crafting a sonic time machine anyone can escape into.
“An Evening with Silk Sonic” is a tight, intentional and high-quality album that doesn’t waste a second of audio on undeserved sound. Most importantly, Mars and .Paak have a blast performing. Their combined energy — swagger — is unavoidably infectious. It’s impossible not to smile when .Paak sings, “Not to be dramatic, but I wanna die,” then falls over and leaves Mars to seamlessly swoop into the shot, cigarette in hand, in the endlessly charismatic “Smokin Out the Window” music video. As YouTube user jehanr commented, “Anderson .Paak playing dead on the ground is the greatest moment in music video history.”
Mars and .Paak could easily carry videos on their own, but they enhance the performance further with other artists like Parliament-Funkadelic bassist Bootsy Collins, who acts as a “special guest host,” and Thundercat, a jazz bassist known for session work with icons like Kendrick Lamar and Erykah Badu.
Overall, the music video for “Smokin Out the Window,” which came out ahead of the record’s release, sets the tone for the album’s greater artistic vision. The video features a rich red backdrop, big star lights, stand-up mics, backup singers, tinted glasses and velvet and silk suits. Calling on Mars’ noted dance skills and appropriated ‘70s swagger, the duo and their entourage craft an undeniably luxurious vibe that permeates their performance. But above all, the music video calls on their showmanship. The duo’s campy arrogance escalates into a project dripping in self-esteem and charisma. The two perform in a way that would encourage any live audience to get up out of their seats and dance. Even the at-home listener is compelled by the band’s invitation: “And ladies? Don’t be afraid to make your way to the stage.”
Immersing the Audience
From the one-minute intro that invites listeners to “get out your seats and make some noise,” to the consistent ‘70s funk aesthetics, to the seamlessly smooth vocals and instrumentals, Silk Sonic presents a refreshingly consistent musical vision. The album shows the artists’ dedication to musical craft and provides fans with a fully immersive album experience. YouTuber gamestreetbiz said, “If you don’t say anything, some people will swear this song is actually from the 70s. Great Jam!!!!!!!”
Silk Sonic reclaims “the lost art of album sequencing” and shines in its equally immersive rollout. In a brand deal with SelvaRey Rum, Bruno Mars crafted cocktail pairings for the nine tracks on the album. Fans can start the intro nursing a “Cadillac Mojito” before transitioning into “Leave the Door Open” with a “Coquito.” Mars says fans can become “Fly as Me” by drinking an “Owner’s Reserve on the Rocks,” the brand’s aged rum on ice. For Track 7, or “777,” Mars recommends an espresso martini.
Whether or not fans add a cocktail to their album binge, sensory lyrics like “I’m sippin’ wine (sip, sip) / In a robe (drip, drip)” and “My house clean, uh (house clean) / My pool warm (pool warm) / Just shaved (smooth like a newborn)” might be just enough to get listeners into the proper chilled out and opulent headspace the album shoots for.
In Silk Sonic’s Rolling Stone cover story, Jonah Weiner wrote, “One of the results of their chemistry is that, whether you’re listening to a Silk Sonic track about walking around your mansion in a robe with a glass of wine or sitting with Mars and .Paak in a courtyard enjoying cocktails, you can almost forget that the album was born during the pandemic, in all its despair and chaos.”
These are dark days, and to some extent, all pop music has been affected. It seems that .Paak and Mars are looking to the past for answers to modern problems. In a digital age marked by easy overconsumption and media oversaturation, it is refreshing to see an album limited to only nine tracks — a standard that harkens back to classic artists like Prince, Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye. While some fans might be disappointed by the album’s short, 31-minute runtime, it’s admirable that the duo focused on quality over quantity in their debut. Plus, each song is catchy enough for every faithful listener to triple the runtime by playing the album on repeat for a night of energetic, good-natured chilling. All nine songs can stand on their own, and each song goes down smooth.
Now, as people crave escape more than ever, Silk Sonic’s music acts like a warm blanket — or perhaps a silk robe — draped over the shoulders, a casual smoke before bed, a glass of smooth rum and a reminder that the only thing that really matters at the end of the day is enjoying yourself. It’s easy to get lost in the pairs’ portrait of vintage extravagance and confidence, believing, if only for a few moments, that everything really will be all right. Fans can hopefully look forward to many more enjoyable “evenings” with Silk Sonic after the success of their marvelous debut.