LA fusion group and Anderson .Paak collaborators the Free Nationals step out on their own | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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LA fusion group and Anderson .Paak collaborators the Free Nationals step out on their own


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Best known as Anderson .Paak’s backing band, the Free Nationals are masters of fusion, with the ability to blend various strains of pop music past and present into mellifluous tracks that dependably set a chill mood. On their 2019 self-titled debut (released by OBE/Empire), they refashion modern funk, boogie, and yacht rock into a backdrop for a revolving door of popular rappers and vocalists, including .Paak, Syd of the Internet, Daniel Caesar, Mac Miller, Kali Uchis, T.I., Conway, and Westside Gunn. Too often, Free Nationals feels like it’s aimed at listeners who’d prefer to hear the band back their favorite MC rather than take center stage—but the group’s refined recontextualization of retro and underground pop styles deserves a real shot on its own terms. The Free Nationals showcase their versatility throughout the album, but usually they mold their sound to fit the personalities of the guest vocalists rather than foregrounding their own talents and tastes. Even within these self-imposed limitations, though, they can crank out electric performances—particularly when they aim to make the suavest sounds imaginable. On the blue-eyed soul number “Apartment,” featuring the gently lilting vocals of Dutch pop artist Benny Sings, the Free Nationals’ easygoing, luscious melodies create a heartening glow.   v

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