Anderson Paak’s Malibu: an excellent summer album

Brandon Paak Anderson- more commonly known as Anderson Paak- is a relatively popular musician, who has collaborated with many well-known artists. His 2016 album Malibu is a great one for summertime.

I first stumbled across Anderson Paak accidentally when I was at Wireless Festival in 2016. Sat at the side of the main stage, waiting for another act, Anderson came on  with the live band he often tours and make music with, the Free Nationals. I was instantly blown away by the musical skill that he possessed. Many musicians are good singers, rappers, producers, or are great at playing their instruments. Yet, normally, musicians are good at maybe one or two of these independently. Paak played multiple instruments on stage, and even played the drums while talking, singing and rapping. It was during this in-person experience that I heard songs from the then six-month-old Malibu for the first time.

Unknowingly, I had already listened to Paak before I saw him live. He featured on six songs on Dr Dre’s album Compton in 2015, and two songs on The Game’s The Documentary 2. His debut album, Venice, gained him some notoriety, and he had released two projects former to that, then performing under the name ‘Breezy Lovejoy’. Malibu is Anderson’s second studio album, as well as being the project that brought him further into the mainstream. It received widespread critical acclaim, placing highly on many ‘best of the year’ lists in 2016, and allowed Paak to make it into the XXL Freshman list. The project even received a Grammy nomination for the Best Urban Contemporary Album.

It is easy to see why the album had such a good reception. The production is fluid and natural, and not the kind of robotic rhythm you see with completely software-developed instrumentals. This is largely a result of the live-recorded instrumentation, bringing out the kind of fluency prevalent on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and Tom Misch’s Geography. It clearly takes a great influence from RnB, hip-hop and funk, occasionally dipping into a jazz rap/neo-soul style production, which makes sense when you consider that alongside Paak, artists like Kaytranada and Madlib feature in the production credits. The album also makes excellent use of samples from old TV and radio shows, featuring them at the beginning or ending of most songs. I would strongly recommend listening to the album with decent headphones on a first hearing to truly appreciate Malibu’s production quality.

The easy-going vibes on the record are perfectly fit for relaxation, or a Wadstock-style day in the sun. Room in Here sees an excellent piano loop, mixed in with some fantastic harmonisation and an incredibly catchy hook. Come Down has an incredible bassline, and a great deal of energy coming from Anderson right from the word go. Songs like Without You create a breezier undercurrent than that of the songs I’ve just mentioned, while still maintaining the jazzy atmosphere that the album creates.

The themes on the project are relatively basic, but the fact that they are especially personal allows me to give Anderson a free pass here. The Bird sees Paak reflect on some of the wort experiences in his life, with a slightly positive spin on the negative topics that he explores. Room in Here and Water Fall (Interluuube) are both incredibly sexual. However, while Brandon pushes the boundary right to where the album would make a difficult listen, he reels it in before you are pushed over the uncomfortable precipice. Without You, undoubtedly one of my favourite songs on the project, sees some very personal anecdotes from Paak, with an excellent verse from North Carolina rapper Rapsody.

Anderson’s style allows him to switch up between rapping and singing in the kind of way that only an artist like Drake can, though he focuses on his singing more than Drake does. In the politest way possible, Paak has one of the strangest voices I have heard in his genre. That allows him to produce an exceptional vocal performance on this album. It’s powerful, and changes in tandem with the mood of the song, meaning it is difficult to be bored listening to Malibu. If you ever have the chance to see him live, you will recognise that his vocal talent extends well past pre-recorded album performances.

Yet Paak’s vocal strength doesn’t mean that he can’t identify the importance of allowing features on the album. The already-mentioned Rapsody, The Game, Schoolboy Q, BJ the Chicago Kid and Talib Kweli all have strong performances on the record. Paak even brought in church choirs on songs like The Dreamer and Lite Weight.

However, while the strong points of the album are certainly solid, there are obvious holes in the album’s track list. A few weeks ago, I reviewed Noname’s Telefone. While the songs on her mixtape, individually, are perhaps not as exciting as the best songs on Malibu, the project fits together better and is strong in its entirety. There is a huge divide on Paak’s album between the songs that are on the level of the four singles released before the album was brought together on one hand, and the much weaker tracks on the other. In my opinion, Parking Lot, Lite Weight, Your Prime and Celebrate are particularly wobbly songs. They are completely forgettable, and aren’t anywhere near unique enough to contend with the better songs on the project. It would have been much better if these had been left off the track list.

The album, on the whole, is still a very enjoyable listen, and I would recommend it regardless of your preferred genres. If you like Malibu, I would advise listening to Paak’s Yes Lawd! with hip-hop producer and songwriter Knxwledge (yes, that is spelled correctly). To get a live feel, listen to his NPR Tiny Desk concert, where he performs a lot of the songs on the album along with the Free Nationals. He has also released two singles in 2018, Till It’s Over and Bubblin’, that you should consider giving a go.

For summer listens in general, I would advise listening to a project like Tyler the Creator’s Flower Boy, or if you’re looking for something even more edgy, something like Jimothy Lacoste’s Future Bae or The Nosebleed Section by Hilltop Hoods.

If it weren’t for the weaker parts of the album, it would have received a higher rating, but I have to give Malibu an 8/10.