.Paak Hits Old Stops, Travels New Places with Endearing “Ventura”

Anderson .Paak has been feelin’ it lately with an ever-versatile, high-stepping vengeance.

In case you’ve been stuck under some rocks, the Malibu singer/songwriter/rapper/drummer/producer helped end 2018 on a strong note with his Dr Dre-collaborated, rap rave-up Oxnard. The record drew mixed reviews soon after release, though I suspect that was due to it being an album that required time and repeated listens to level up.

It would also have flowed much better without the skits that don’t age well after a lot of repeats. But I digress.

That’s why, as someone who’s written about music the last several years, I often hesitate to talk about new work the day it releases or soon after. There’s certainly a high associated with those initial listening experiences, but taking the time to study the puzzle pieces has a way of expanding the angles of creativity being brushed into this mix of many melodies.

So when the announcement for Ventura inevitably came along… that mental battle began. Especially with how quickly I’ve enjoyed the record since it dropped earlier this month.

“Come Home” is a retrograde-groove, come to attention album-starter that almost smells like an old LP sleeve and benefits from .Paak’s time-and-again sense of flow (not to mention slapping drumwork). The whiplash of a blistering second half verse from Outkast’s Andre 3000 certainly adds to its case, helping to put this one straight into the “Winner’s Circle” (Ventura song title joke, it happened, let’s move on).

“Come Home” brilliantly melds the warm R&B vibe that was promised in early Ventura teasers with the story Oxnard began late last year, and the theme threads throughout the album. Because in many ways the pair are a double album to each other, just speaking separate sides of the same coin. One that ran hard to chest bump and bass thump, and another… that just had to talk about love a little bit.

Speaking of love, tracks like “Make it Better” just make me smile. A slow-swaying ode to lost affection featuring a crooning .Paak backed by the velvet voice of Smokey Robinson, the singer who helped make the torch song croon what it is today? That’s a kind of magic you can’t deny, especially when you’re encircled by that chorus. I get the same vibe from .Paak’s back and forth with the vocals of the departed Nate Dogg on “What Can We Do?” Try not to belt along when you know musical church is in session.

“Reachin’ 2 Much” feels like a drum and horn-floated, tempo-chopped cruise down the coast of Miami Vice with a touch of .Paak’s own tune “Lite Weight” scattered in for tempo-switching flavor. While “Winner’s Circle” samples the classic “A Bronx Tale” before proceeding into a Thundercat-assisted slapping punch of rhythm that slips with satisfaction into “Good Heels”.

While I would say .Paak’s far from alone in creating these genre fusions, his songs always speak in their own voices. Some in certain seasons, others with connection to particular moments. And while I won’t go making the exhausted “is Ventura better than Malibu?” comparison, it is a VERY fine addition to the .Paak library.

And something tells me he’s still just getting started.

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Oh, Tuesdays…

They’re not exactly the Tom Waits-ian type days of lore where you expect to sit back spinning “great yarns” by the smoky haze of lamplight. But, given that the start of my average work day coincides with the beginning of the standard workplace lunch break, I tend to look toward the odd days/hours to help unleash my inspiration. Which in itself… hasn’t been an easy process.

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Lately I’ve been trying to feel my way out of one of the worst dry spells I’ve experienced as an independent writer, and losing my urge to create. And while I don’t want OTBEOTB to be any less about music, from now on you may see more of my “nuts and bolts” feelings regarding my creative process.

That might occasionally include venting some of the frustration on the road to breaking out of a funk too.

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Because there certainly have been plenty of recent ups and downs, and speaking from the perspective of a slump as a long-time sufferer of anxiety, it makes the feeling of sitting silent agonizing. Not using the words I know I have. I feel like there are worlds out there spinning I’m out of orbit from or places my voice could be. And yet, I’m not there.

Yet at the same time, I still think of plenty I’d like to say about a new song or an album I see that I just can’t make myself write down. Or, I deeply fear what I will say won’t sound as good as what’s in my head. So… let’s change that feeling, because I have something new (to me) musically you need to know about.

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In the last week or so, I’ve suddenly been devoted to the discovery of California singer/rapper/drummer/producer extraordinaire Anderson .Paak, his last full-length LP (2016’s Malibu), as well as recent .Paak singles “Bubblin'” and “‘Til It’s Over”. Now despite being a voracious music lover, I admit to being very guilty of having good music in my possession I simply don’t listen to. To put it in terms of food, my eyes occasionally grow larger than my stomach. So from time to time, I’m a few years back on a good thing. #musicalpackrat

In .Paak’s case, last Monday morning I put on lead Malibu track “The Bird” in a spontaneous decision to listen to the album straight through after previously leafing through a few cuts. And while low background music I enjoy typically helps me focus during work days, I never expected to be so quickly struck by the burst of lightning that is how good of an album Malibu is. While a few moments do drag (and I’m still not sure whether to laugh or cringe at the Prince-sounding omage of “Silicon Valley”), .Paak’s consistency across Malibu and its 16 songs is almost revelatory in the days of digital.

To give you a quick sense of the artist without sudden need of a Spotify search, here’s .Paak with band The Free Nationals on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert.

And performing “The Bird”.

One of the greatest things about .Paak and Malibu in my opinion is the way the record’s sounds of rap and R&B glow fresh and contemporary, while still maintaining a washing machine blend of James Brown footwork, Otis Redding soul, swinging jazz/funk, and the building blocks of 70’s-era West Coast music. And to hone in on the Godfather of Soul for a moment, its .Paak’s similarly confident, swaggering braggadocio sealed with a Cheshire Cat grin that makes this record kick even harder. He’s got a hell of a gift and knows it, and that in and of itself is infectious.

.Paak does have other prior musical output, most notably LP Venice which has more of a predominantly hip-hop flavor and is still a work in progress for me. Its good, but feels like .Paak just before he starts hitting his stride knocking fastballs and melodies alike out of the park. So consider me hooked as we wait for the two .Paak albums supposedly due out sometime in 2018.

And until then, I plan to do plenty of binge-listening like Netflix to get ready. With any luck, perhaps I can also include pushing those fears and anxieties away too.

(Also, here’s one last video. Just for fun.)

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