The Free Nationals’ self-titled album features nostalgic funk, sensational grooves

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Grade: 5.0/5.0

The Free Nationals, known for being Anderson .Paak’s backing band, released its self-titled debut album, Free Nationals, on Dec. 13. As a group, the Free Nationals has been gaining steam steadily with each single it releases, averaging 1,901,551 listeners on Spotify per month. José Rios plays guitar in the ensemble, while Ron Tnava Avant takes care of keyboard and Kelsey Gonzalez and Callum Connor are the group’s bassist and drummer, respectively. This album is part of the band’s foray into making music as an independent entity, bringing together a variety of singles the Free Nationals released in the past couple of years, such as “Shibuya,” “Eternal Light” and “Beauty & Essex,” with additional new content. The finished product is a resounding success, with a well-rounded and unforgettable sound. 

The first song listed on the album, “Obituaries,” starts out with a speech beautifully performed by Shafiq Husayn about human love and the power of brotherhood. The track then delves into a grungier bass line and fluctuating synth, with a steady drum rhythm and a low drone playing consistently in the background.

“Beauty & Essex,” featuring Daniel Caesar and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, is reminiscent of Caesar’s Freudian album with its hopelessly romantic tone and sensual lyrics, such as “Wet like an ocean, aphrodisiac potion.” The track features melodious synth inflections and funky guitar and bass to complement Caesar’s smoothly passionate voice and soaring range.

“On Sight” is an iconically catchy song with an engaging, groovy rhythm that is simultaneously futuristic and straight out of the ’70s. J.I.D, Kadhja Bonet and MIKNNA form a formidable dream team, with each musician lending their own special touch. The track embodies all the pangs of love at first sight with its relaxed style, and J.I.D’s rap verse expresses genuine emotion and heart, with lyrics such as “Hope you send me your peace to exorcise my demon.” 

The next track, “Shibuya,” is dreamy and inviting, with Syd’s vocals and silky saxophone. In this song, which was originally released as a single by the Free Nationals, Syd urges her lover to stay until Saturday with angelic warmth. The song encapsulates all the bliss of a lazy morning.

“Apartment,” the fifth track on the album, features Dutch musician Benny Sings’ breezy, laid-back vocals. The lyrics are simple yet bittersweet as Sings narrates the process of looking for an apartment after a recent breakup. 

Even more bittersweet is “Time,” which features Mac Miller posthumously, along with Colombian American singer Kali Uchis. The Free Nationals layer the track beautifully with the strummings of guitar, steady drums, horns and Kali Uchis’ signature songbird vocals. According to the members of the Free Nationals, writing his part of the lyrics for the song was an emotional process for Mac Miller, and the song truly reflects this authenticity and rawness. Miller raps, “Well, I don’t trip, but I slip, I fall,” and later,” But don’t leave me.” In the chorus, Uchis sings, “I gotta take some time to grow/ But without you, I’m miserable,” capturing the conflicted feelings of needing a break in a relationship but being reluctant to let go. 

 “Lester Diamond” is a nostalgic, feel-good track named after a villain from the 1995 film “Casino.” The instrumental song blends classic R&B and chill hip-hop together in a rich fusion of dancey synth sound effects, smoldering guitar and jazz-style drums. In “Eternal Light,” another track that began as a well-received single, the Free Nationals infuse the rhythm with slow-burning reggae and blues undertones in homage to vocalist Chronixx’s Jamaican background. 

In its debut album, the Free Nationals manage to achieve a masterful balance of genre-blending and groove. Each track is luminously exciting and bright and can stand on its own as a piece of art. Most admirable of all is how the Free Nationals manage to showcase the style of each artist it collaborates with, while still allowing its own distinctive sound to shine through. 

Contact Luna Khalil at [email protected].