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  • Joe Marsh

Review | The Free Nationals — Free Nationals

The Free Nationals set out to prove they're more than just Anderson. Paak's backing band.


Before the end of the decade, The Free Nationals released their self-titled debut album, hoping to prove themselves as a band to be considered before being discounted as Anderson. Paak's backing band (a great backing band, in fact). Blending forty minutes of P-Funk, Neo-Soul, smooth RnB, and Jazz with some incredible features, the band have created an intriguing yet refreshing project just in time for a new decade, and proven themselves as a talented group of musicians deserving of the spotlight.


It is no wonder that the band had a huge impact on Anderson. Paak's direction, blending Jazz-Funk, Soul and even elements of P-Funk. Despite this incredibly refreshing sound, there is a sense that the project is a more of a collaborative project and than a pure band effort and although this doesn't necessarily affect the quality of the album, it does alter how much we can judge this project as a Free Nationals project.


Nevertheless, the features are incredible, ranging from Daniel Caesar, Kali Uchis, Syd, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and the late rapper Mac Miller. Each feature brings something different to the silky production yet their individuality as an artist remains,x which says a lot about the versatility of the Free Nationals and their ability to collaborate successfully with the features. The band leader Anderson. Paak does appear throughout the album, but he’s taken a step back from the spotlight and allowed the Free Nationals to shine through. When you do hear his vocals, they’re used more as an instrument adding to the layers of the tracks rather than taking main vocal responsibilities.


The Free Nationals prove themselves time and again, that their talents lie in their smooth compositions and tight control as a band. The influences are endless, in a single listen you could identify Parliament, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson for the funky drum rhythms and vocal effects but you could also identify the Jazz-Funk that you could hear from Herbie Hancock or even '90s Hip-Hop that you’d often hear from the instrumentals often rapped over by Ice Cube, Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. This fusion of sounds and influences are beyond impressive and to hear this sort of music coming from a live band is very refreshing. The tracks are full of tight snappy drums, a mix of boomy live bass and funky synth bass lines, gorgeous guitar chords and Rhodes keyboards.


They also often feature horn stabs and passages here and there, carefully adding subtle layers to the track — that's what stands out the most on repeat listens — the precise level of detail to each track. The production is silky smooth, yet if you choose to focus on certain sounds you can hear so much detail. This not only makes the album perfectly accessible to different music listeners but also gives repeat-listen value. Whether this is a rolling bassline, a smooth vocal melody or a drum beat that just keeps bouncing, the Free Nationals have not only entered the spotlight but most importantly proved that they deserve own attention. An exciting project from an incredibly talented band, despite its collaborative feel, this is a perfect debut project and proves that the Free Nationals have huge potential with future releases.



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