Rebirth of the Cool
With his latest undertaking, Michael Collins has once again managed to resurrect a long-dead genre. In the past the Baltimore native found success under the influence of another drug-laced allusion, Salvia Plath. On The Bardo Story, the only release put out under the Salvia Plath moniker, Collins took on 60s Beach Boys styled pop psychedelia like a Rhodes Scholar. Collins’ latest effort with vocalist Sasha Desree, Silk Rhodes, derives its drug-addled innuendo from a former underground black market internet site that sold illegal drugs, though the name was originally lifted from the name of ancient trade routes through China and India to the Mediterranean begun during the Han Dynasty. And rightly so should the name be steeped in history, as Collins knows how to study the past.
Musical proof of this theory is professed on Silk Rhodes’ self-titled 70s soul infected debut. And infected is the accurate term, trumping the broader “inspired” because Collins and Desree aren’t borrowing elements of 70s soul and putting their own spin on it, rather they have attached themselves to it like hosts, using its funky and soulful nutrients. The duo are able to do so without the banality that an artist such as Beck has used to weasel himself into the hearts of throwback genre loving fans and critics. Instead Collins and Desree, like two truly great actors, remain in character the entire length of the album, keeping it airtight, and therefore keeping their 70s soul seal seamless.
Silk Rhodes come at it straight out of the gate with the dance funk instrumental opener, “Intro.” As the funky Rhodes beeps and blurts along with jazz tempo guitar licks, you immediately feel your shirt collar extend to butterfly length, the stiff polyester rubbing against your neck like a hardened sponge, as your ankle length leather zip boots begin to tap along to the simple snare and high-hat combo. The fast funk takes a rest, slowing down on the achingly soulful “Pains,” on which a funereally quiet church organ and clean, singly spaced guitar strums slowly intermingle with well-placed portions of haunting violins. Desree’s warm falsetto, smooth as flower petals, floats atop these mellow rhythms.
A double dose of dance is issued via the discothèque ready “Face 2 Face” with its jangly, scat-strummed guitars and interspersed handclaps, and “Realtime,” a slower groove than its predecessor, this song requires a closely pressed partner and a little swinging of the hips. This “couples only” song mentality is taken even further on the sexy and sitar soaked “Painted World,” with Desree’s harmonies, fragile as silk, possessing the ability to coo couples into sedation.
With Silk Rhodes, Collins and Desree have put on a convincing show, traversing through a bygone genre like a seventies-era Lewis and Clark. And though there are a few moments on Silk Rhodes where one is suddenly ripped from the dream world and thrust back into reality by the house laden beats of “Personal Use,” as well as by a few silly interspersed interludes, it is almost as if the two are blatantly hinting at how well they’ve been able to master a genre – well enough that they can take a few moments to play around with their audience before getting back to work. Silk Rhodes is the kind of album that could be buried in a time capsule and still come out sounding fresh a hundred years later.