Nitin Sawhney - Beyond Skin - Review
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critics' view

Funny old business, Nu Asian Kool. A generic term cannot hope to encompass things as diverse as the woeful Goodness Gracious Me, Talvin Singh, or ‘Beyond Skin’, the new album by Streatham-based Nitin Sawhney.

Ultimately, of course, the only records worth listening to are those which transcend fleeting generic definitions. And ‘Beyond Skin’ is just such a record. Asian, in the sense of Sawhney‘s heritage, upbringing, cultural references and identity. But what makes ‘Beyond Skin’ so excellent is Sawhney‘s refusal to be chained to unenlightened expectations of what an ‘Asian’ record should sound like.

‘Beyond Skin’ is most reminiscent of the first ‘book’ of 4 Hero‘s cyborg-’70s-soul conceit, ‘Two Pages’ (members of the 4 Hero band appear throughout). And while topics embodied by the record number India’s nuclear testing, Hindu mythology and bittersweet memories of emigration to England, they are always foregrounded by Sawhney‘s assured excursions into jazz-soul, drum’n’bass and traditional Asian music.

But the issues raised resonate no less affectingly for all their subtlety. As Sawhney himself notes of the opening track, ‘Broken Skin’, it’s “about radiation sickness, yet somehow sounds like a song of lost love.” Perhaps it is.

This intangibility is ultimately what makes ‘Beyond Skin’ so satisfying. It’s movingly anti-sentimental, political without being polemical. It’s beyond stereotype, and careening close to sublime.

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