What do we already know about the Free Nationals? Well, they headlined last year’s Falls Festival for a start.
Yes, the Free Nationals may better known to you as Anderson .Paak’s live band, but the four-piece band made up of Kelsey Gonzalex (bass), Ron ‘T.Nava” Avant (keys), Callum Connor (drums) and Jose Rios (guitar) have been working up their own debut album over the past three years whilst playing an essential part in .Paak’s heated career. Now, the band finally have an identity of their own with the release of their self titled album Free Nationals. Within 41 minutes of funky material and a host of awesome guests ranging .Paak himself to the late Mac Miller, the four have have cooked up something undoubtedly pleasing to the ear.
The album veers through different sounds, in and out of groovy rhythms, synchronised synths – think funk, jazz, hip hop, soul, R&B, rap… you name it. While, for an instrumental band, so much of the album is wrapped up in the vocals from the featured artists, the music is their own and original with each track complimented by accommodating voices. Although we know we’re always listening to a Free Nationals album, each track is so different, it’s almost like the album is in orbit. It may lack a little cohesion, but that’s not to say we don’t dig it.
First track Obituaries is a hot one featuring Shafiq Husayn, who blesses the beginning of the track with a little spoken word. We’re guided into this song lightly before they drop us right in the deep end and take us on a groovy little journey sprinkled with some hi-hat. It’s the perfect opening to leave us wanting more after a short 2:21 minutes.
The band then slows it down a bit with Beauty & Essex. This is their debut single featuring Daniel Caeser and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and it’s mighty smooth. There’s no shock Caeser jumped on board with this one, his vocals fitting perfectly in their sensual sultriness to do so well in complimenting the band (Ceaser taking a similar kind of approach to his previous album Freudian). Linked up with vocals from Unknown Mortal Orchestra it’s an emotional teaser and a fit that unexpectedly works.
Shibuya is a treat with The Internet’s Syd adding with her simply effective lyrics: “You should stay until Saturday/ Cause you ain’t gotta work tomorrow anyway”. It’s likely that anyone a fan of The Internet would be a fan of this, their sounds both smooth and relaxing enough to make you stay in this weekend. Centrepiece Time, meanwhile has provided much of the album’s interest to date thanks to its verse from Mac Miller that only reminds of this talent taken too soon – though it is unlikely to rank among fans’ fave Miller tracks in the long run.
Although Free Nationals are very much headed on their own path, .Paak makes one appearance with his cameo on Gidget, also featuring T.Nava with his famed talk-box injections. This track doesn’t go unnoticed and has already made it’s mark on .Paak fans without taking the spotlight off of the band. While it’s a little difficult understanding what this song is actually about (reportedly based off the old time film Gidget and an obsession with it’s 1960s surf-girl character), any confusion may be savoured by the fact that it’s a seriously groovy number with a commitment to the band’s 60/70s sound to create an ultimately modern funk dance number.
Free Nationals are a skilled band dedicated to their sounds and chosen era. Perhaps they struggle a little to break free of their usual frontman’s shadow here – after all this is what has guided their success thus far, and with only a couple of tracks on the album that are purely instrumental, and lack of standout material, it may be easy for Free Nationals to slip into background music territory with this otherwise chill debut outing.