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Anderson .Paak - Ventura (Album Review)

Tuesday, 23 April 2019 Written by Jacob Brookman

Anderson .Paak’s new record is excellent: a rich, energetic return to groovy modern soul that reins in the edgier hip hop tones seen on 2018’s 'Oxnard'. And while his music sometimes feels derivative, it gives space to a singer and musical character of fabulous poise and endeavour.

Standout moments include the incurably funky Winners Circle, a track that opens with a vocal skit from the 1993 film A Bronx Tale before dropping into a bassy groove-led scat vocal motif matched by a flute melody. This compositional technique is light, familiar and drop dead gorgeous, and it provides a marvellous basis for rapping that is soulful and thoughtful. Similarly wonderful is Make It Better—ostensibly a sugary ballad with a light-headed soul and groove that is warm and hypnotic.

Elsewhere, King James is probably the most interesting song in terms of lyrical content. Here, .Paak riffs on African-American political resistance and aligns the trend of protest action in high profile sportspeople to grassroots movements and community activism.

The arrangement of the track is once again wonderful, with a host of new-sounding synth voices and brass effects accompanying some death-defying vocal arrangements and .Paak’s seemingly effortless rhymes.

That said, .Paak is in some ways a vexing artist. His musical voice appears highly distinctive—even original—at first, but dig a little deeper and you find that he hasn’t actually covered his tracks very well. His songwriting choices frequently look like direct lifts from Prince, Parliament-Funkadelic or, somewhat inevitably, Stevie Wonder, and while they are knitted together with intense intelligence and skill, the criticism remains that he is something of a musical magpie.

But ‘Ventura’ is still a record of highly detailed and varied composition, and one that should restore some of the cred .Paak lost with ‘Oxnard’. The problem is that there seems to be a true auteur vision currently out of reach for him. To put it in footballing terms he is Sergio Agüero—happy banging in goals for fun in England, but there is a chance he could actually be a world beater akin to Lionel Messi. Does he realise this, or is he happy at his current level?

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