Though already four albums deep into his career, with Malibu, Brandon Paak Anderson has finally crafted his breakout record. Clearly that was the intention, given so much of its runtime is devoted to proving himself as an adaptable performer. Traces of so many of his contemporaries are buried throughout that it can be hard to separate Anderson’s own voice from those whom he’s emulating; it might’ve come off as desperate if it were not all so well executed. What sets Malibu apart though, and what gives it identity, is that it’s ultimately a feel-good record and – given the current state of R&B and hip-hop – that alone should verify it as a risk.
For as much as Anderson takes inspiration from his contemporaries, he doesn’t really have all that much in common with them. He may share some jazz influence with Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, but he’s not interested in taking on broad social issues like racial inequality nor does he care to match Lamar’s ferocity; on carnal cuts like ‘Water Fall’ he channels Miguel’s inherent sensuality, but he’s certainly not made an erotic record; he shares some of The Weeknd’s new-found pop sensibility, but their music couldn’t be further apart in tone. With the dark and foreboding nature of so much of today’s R&B and hip-hop, it’s refreshing to hear a truly sanguine voice. For as varied and broad as Malibu is, it never really goes dark. Nor would you expect it to with that title.
Ultimately, the record is at its best as a true unabashed throwback, such as on feel-good standout ‘Celebrate’, which harkens back to the early 00s with its soft piano and refreshingly blithe lyrics. ‘Am I Wrong?’ throws in some retro funk with a Latin disco instrumental, and on ‘Without You’, he samples Australian soul quartet Hiatus Kaiyote beneath an alluringly understated love song; in Anderson’s Malibu, even relationships are blissfully uncomplicated.
Anderson, very effectively, takes elements of what works for other artists and infuses them into his own music. What he doesn’t do is mimic and, ultimately, the record belongs to nobody else but him. With Malibu, Anderson .Paak establishes himself as one of the most adaptable and versatile performers out there. Now he just needs to pick a path and follow it.