Everything about Silk Sonic – Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak's joyous R&B supergroup – is designed to evoke 70s soul. From matching brown velour suits to period-appropriate moustaches and flagrant smoking ban violations, the pair have crafted a vivid, retro aesthetic. And their songs sound like they could have hit the charts 45 years ago.
But for all the allusions to 1970s soul and R&B, does the duo's album An Evening With Silk Sonic really sound like the music of the era from which they draw inspiration? On first listen, we thought it was spot on, but without being biased by the band’s 70s look, what does an impartial music AI think?
We analysed Billboard Hot 100 Soul and R&B songs that reached number 1 between 1970 and 1979 and then ran the same analysis on Silk Sonic's new album to compare. Here are the results.
First, the differences.
The most striking difference is genre. The predominant genre detected for the 70s soul dataset was Soul, followed by Early Soul, Funk and Easy Listening. No surprises there.
By contrast, for Silk Sonic's modern take on these genres, the Musiio Tag AI ranked Soul only fifth for the entire record. The breakdown of genre for An Evening With Silk Sonic shows that the algorithm recognises Pop and Contemporary Pop as primary genres, with Funk, Electro Pop and Soul trailing.
Several factors could contribute to this result. The first is audio quality. Although there’s scarce information about Silk Sonic’s studio production techniques, their music sounds more modern to our ears. It’s possible that by using the recording methods of the 1970s – such as analogue tape – the genre mix might have been closer to 70s soul.
The other factor is human feel versus perfect timing. Listen to “Just My Imagination” (1971) by The Temptations; it sounds like it's been played live in the studio. You can hear the imperfections and subtle interplay between performers. It’s not locked to the grid or quantised, so it sounds more like soul. The studio norm is now to tighten performances and record performers separately.
The final piece of the genre puzzle is the AI itself. When we train the AI, we show it a dataset of tracks most representative of a particular genre. Whenever we show it a new track, it listens to over 1,500 data points before making predictions about any particular tag. In this instance, the AI recognises more similarities with music from 2021 than with 70s music. This raises the question: can we truly make authentic 70s soul without replicating the recording techniques of the era?
We can see from the Recording Quality scores for Silk Sonic’s album that the singles all receive the highest scores. The most recent single, “Smokin Out The Window”, is off the charts with a recording quality score of 99. Hats off to producer D'Mile and Mixing Engineer Serban Ghenea! But it doesn’t mean that we can’t recapture the recording quality of the 1970s for a more authentic effect.
Track “777”’s lower score is much closer to the recording quality scores of 70s music, and is likely due to its deliberately scratchy funk production. Incidentally, this data point, paired with the track’s driving funk riff, allowed the AI to tag “777” as funk with 100% certainty.
Musically, our analyses also revealed that chart-topping soul records from the 1970s predominantly used major keys, inspiring feelings of positivity and emotional uplift. Silk Sonic buck that trend, using almost exclusively minor keys for their music.
This data might suggest the superstar duo has leant into the more mournful segment of soul. But when we look at Mood Valence – an indicator of a song’s emotional impact – we see that Silk Sonic’s music is overwhelmingly positive, despite the minor keys. And it seems this combination of minor keys and positive emotion has helped hook a new generation on soul without being over-sweet.
So, why does it sound so much like the 70s?
Critically, Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak have captured the mood of 70s R&B – literally. For 70s R&B and soul hits, the AI reveals the most common moods are Relaxed and Romantic; this is virtually the exact breakdown as Silk Sonic's record.
On top of that, the energy analysis of our 70s hits reveals that these classics overwhelmingly have Medium energy. The same goes for all of Silk Sonic’s tunes, too, meaning it can comfortably sit alongside soul classics in playlists.
There is little doubt that Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak have created magic in this album; it’s unquestionably a nostalgic slice of 70s vibe, which has people online already crying out for more. Reading through the comments, many are already calling this the album of the year – some a “masterpiece”.
Interestingly, Silk Sonic have taken the music of a bygone era and brought it firmly into 2021 with their sparkly and perfectly polished production techniques. So much so that it even fooled our AI.
Oh, and if you want to hear what our AI thought about the biggest hits from the album, it registered “Smoking Out the Window”, “Leave The Door Open” and “Put on A Smile” as the tracks with the highest hit potential.
But what do you think? Do you think Soul music is just the genre? Or is a production technique as important in deciding these things as instrumentation? Do you think Silk Sonic have nailed the 70s soul sound? What's your favourite track from the album?