It was only a matter of time for Ahmed Gallab. The Sudan-born, Ohio-bred musician has been bursting with ideas and potential since his days drumming for Columbus DIY bands Sweetheart and Pompeii, This Morning. And he's been smartly building connections all the while, first by fraternizing with the stream of underground bands that funneled through Columbus punk hotspots like the Legion of Doom, then by jumping at the chance to sub in as Caribou's drummer in 2008, wisely putting his own brainchild Sinkane on the backburner for a time. That opportunistic leap began the odyssey that led to a tour with Of Montreal, full-time residency in Brooklyn and a regular gig with Yeasayer. He wedged his way into the right places, but he never forced his hand, waiting patiently (albeit anxiously) for his moment. That moment is now.
On Tuesday, James Murphy's storied DFA label released Mars, which isn't really the first Sinkane album, but certainly the first one that reins Gallab's cosmic sprawl into something so immediately powerful and comprehensible. Mars is a great record, one that benefits both from Gallab's wide range of musical obsessions and his similarly wide range of successful mentors. Its eight songs are truly global in sound and ambition, merging Afrobeat, krautrock, free jazz, funk and indie rock into a signature style that's mesmerizing in its singularity even as it beckons with approachability. It is a party record and a headphone record at once, in which a distinctly personal vision taps into universal sensations.
This might sound like hyperbole coming from Sinkane's home team, but listen for yourself. Opening track "Runnin'" is in the running for single of the year, Gallab's falsetto riding circular percussion and propulsive wah guitar straight out of the 1970s' hardest funk. On psychedelic joyride floater "Making Time," he tweaks his natural tenor, robo-harmonizing "I go cruising" over pulsating disco funk until a 1980s action movie guitar solo shows up to wreck shop. An incessant piano plink adds edge to the otherwise woozy Axis: Bold as Love descenant "Warm Spell." Even the free jazz title track doesn't meander. Like the album as a whole, it feels expansive without succumbing to limitless jamming that exhausts as much as it entertains. Whereas Gallab's earlier Sinkane albums documented the joy of discovery in progress, Mars feels more like a carefully sculpted endpoint to one wild trip. That it doubles as the launchpad for something bigger is cause for celebration.