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A Seattle duo takes inspiration from Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, Butcher Brown and Side 2 of Abbey Road.
At first glance, purposely uncapitalized duo sunking — keyboardist Antoine Martel and drummer Bobby Granfelt — might come across as a Beatles tribute act named for the song on the Abbey Road album. Or an indie version of DOMi & JD Beck, the celebrated pairing of the French keyboardist and Texas drummer who became stars on YouTube before dropping their debut album in 2022.
Yet this Seattle-launched duo deservedly invites listeners to take a closer look. Martel and Granfelt grew up in the same suburb of the Emerald City and have worked together on various projects for decades. And their chemistry is evident on sunking’s new release, Smug (Anti-).
“We met about 15 years ago, when we were each about 15 years old,” Granfelt says. “We became friends and started creating music and playing in Seattle’s all-ages, DIY scene."
Much has changed since then. Granfelt is now based in Los Angeles, and speaks via a conference call along with Martel, who dials in from British Columbia, Canada. The drummer cut his teeth on rock music; the keyboardist was classically trained. Sunking, as well as their seven-piece band High Pulp, create all-encompassing fusions with roots in both worlds.
Smug features 19 experimental tracks that include elements of jazz, hip-hop and electronic music and range from one to three minutes long. Such brevity might recall The Beatles’ successful early attempts to gain radio airplay, but that’s where comparisons end. Granfelt’s drums, often treated through dampening and/or engineering, provide the foundation, from manically percolating to slow, acidic feels. Multi-instrumentalist Martel’s keyboards, mostly synthesizers, and guests including saxophonist Donny Sujack provide much of the swirling topography.
“I added piano, organ, synth and electric piano sounds,” Martel says, “and I played some guitar and bass. Bobby and I added percussion and other sounds on some made-up instruments. Neither of us play any horns, so we had to get someone else to do that.”
Early tracks like “Anxiety” and ”Inheri(past)tence” showcase the influence of veteran jazz legends (and Miles Davis alumni) in keyboardist Herbie Hancock and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, who co-wrote a recent “Open Letter to the Next Generation of Artists” calling for creativity through imagination. Overdubbed instruments, spoken word and samples showcase additional links to Shorter’s band Weather Report, Hancock’s Head Hunters group and other Davis offshoot fusion acts like guitarist John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra and drummer Tony Williams’ Lifetime.
And just when you think the second half of the disc can’t get more unpredictable than the first, futuristic explorations like “Wormhole to Andromeda” and “My Mind Is an Oven” add indie rock influences from Frank Zappa to Modest Mouse, plus elements of visionary fusion keyboard trio Medeski, Martin & Wood. “ESP” (not the Davis-Shorter song) even features Hancock and Shorter reciting parts of their open letter, wisely reminding both musicians and their listeners to “tap into the inherent magic that exists within our minds.”
Mission accomplished. The duo’s lower-case name and its echo of The Beatles, as well as the briefness of tracks on Smug, were all conscious decisions, according to the keyboardist and drummer.
“I’ve always found it weird that in English we always capitalize the word ‘I,’” Martel says. “I think there’s ego involved in that, like we’re making ourselves more important. But we love The Beatles, and that song was an inspiration toward the name.”
“This album was inspired by a group called Butcher Brown and their Grown Folk record,” Granfelt says, citing the 2015 release by the funky five-piece collective. “It’s like their beat tapes album, where the songs are all around two minutes long, but create something bigger overall.” — Bill Meredith
Featured photo courtesy of Will Matsuda.