The Free Nationals came to prominence as Anderson .Paak’s backing band on 2016’s widely beloved Malibu and the tour supporting it. Today the group has subbed out .Paak for a couple of very different singers on a new single called “Beauty & Essex.”
The song features Daniel Caesar, the promising young Canadian R&B singer who broke out in a big way with the Kali Uchis duet “Get You.” His pillowy falsetto eases into this simmering groove in a similar way. Also on “Beauty & Essex” is Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Ruben Nielsen, who contributes a thinner, more rough-edged vocal through some lo-fi processing.
It’s a strange pairing — and one that serves to emphasize just how good Daniel Caesar is at singing — but it works pretty well, all things considered. I’ve never known UMO as a particularly vocals-first operation, but I appreciate Nielsen’s confidence to jump on a track with a powerhouse singer like Caesar and act like he belongs. And if the Free Nationals are out here putting strange combinations of artists together, I’m curious to hear what else they’ve got lined up. (UPDATE: On Beats 1, the band explains their album will also feature the late Mac Miller, Kali Uchis, Chronixx, and Benny Sings.)
Hear “Essex & Beauty” below.