In a turnaround so quick it might have given his fans whiplash, rhythm and blues artist Anderson .Paak released his fourth studio album “Ventura” just months after his third, “Oxnard.” The musician has referred to the 11-track project as “a celebration of life,” and after a few listens, it’s hard to deny that the album absolutely delivers on that positive tone.
Mirroring the real-life proximity between the two California towns of Oxnard and Ventura, .Paak’s albums are meant to be companions. The musical connection ends there, though, as the focus on a more retro, soul-infused R&B feel for “Ventura” differs greatly from the modern, hip-hop beats of “Oxnard.”
The latest album upholds .Paak’s hallmark sounds, most notably his distinctive raspy-yet-smooth vocals, romantically rhythmic groove and permeating hazy atmosphere. There’s something about the production value here that makes .Paak’s creativity feel even more effortless than usual, as though he sauntered into the studio one day and recorded the album on a whim. There’s no pretentiousness, just well-crafted, dizzyingly catchy tunes.
As an album, “Ventura” functions as a cohesive whole, which gives it more of a singular identity than a collective one. It feels like an album that’s supposed to be listened to in its entirety, a vinyl in a sea of digital singles. If you’re not watching the tracks play, it can be difficult at times to discern exactly when one track switches to the next, as they flawlessly segue into each other.
On the other hand, the album can, at times, border on homogeneity, and while none of the songs are particularly poor, some of them might not stand out to the listener once they’re finished. Perhaps the most uniquely memorable moment of “Ventura” occurs on the first track, “Come Home,” where featured rapper André 3000 belts out a jaw-droppingly fast-paced verse.
.Paak himself is in top lyrical form throughout the 11 tracks, interweaving timelessly catchy hooks with clear-cut social commentary. The greatest example is on the first single released for the album, “King James,” where .Paak sings “We couldn’t stand to see our children shot dead in the streets / But when I finally took a knee, them crackers took me out of the league.” The verse references the 2016 Colin Kaepernick controversy, when the ex-quarterback kneeled during the national anthem to protest police brutality against black people and was never signed by an NFL team again.
.Paak’s smooth delivery of lines like these might cause them to nearly flow past the listener, but a closer examination adds another layer of richness and depth to the songs.
While “Ventura” is more consistently pleasing than its predecessor album, it could have done with just a bit more of the experimentation that made “Oxnard” shine. As it stands, though, .Paak’s latest outing is nothing if not feel-good, and proudly demonstrates that some old-fashioned soul is always welcome.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 15, 2019, print edition. Email Ethan Zack at [email protected].