LIVE REVIEW: Khruangbin @ Metro Theatre, Sydney

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Khruangbin, Harvey Sutherland
Metro Theatre
14 March 14th, 2019

by Chris Familton

This was a night of very few voices given that both acts on the bill were primarily instrumental trios. It was the music that did the talking and it transformed the Metro into a wall-to-wall sea of bodies-in-motion and conjured up a celebratory vibe in the room.

Harvey Sutherland, the self-described funk-synthesist, was up from Melbourne to open the show and by the end of the first song he’d won over the audience with his blend of soul, funk, house, disco and of course the aforementioned funk. The rhythm section were quite astonishing in their fluidity and precision as they constantly found new ways to build rhythmic detail and dynamics into the music while Sutherland wove his cosmic keyboards into melodic dance floor excursions. It was an infectious set that brought to mind Steely Dan filtered through Jamiroquai.

Khruangbin have built their brand on a visual aesthetic that melds black, straight-fringed wigs with explosions of colour and choreographed stage moves delivered with a knowing half-smile and semi-detached cool. That was enhanced on stage with an excellent light show – simple, bold and dramatic utilising colour and shapes, much like the trio’s music, on this first of two sold out nights at the venue.

It quickly became clear that they’ve spend a lot of time and effort into structuring their sets so there is a balance of peaks and valleys, from the hard funk breakbeat of Maria También to the dreamy, sweet and soulful soft tones of Cómo Me Quieres. As a trio they balance each other out wonderfully. Laura Lee is often the most compelling focal point with her knee drops and hip swivels and constantly light-dancing bass-lines, while Mark Speer roams his side of the stage, also in endless motion as a player but with a kind of roving commission to explore all stylistic facets of his guitar, from psych rock solos to dub echoes and flurries of hyper-melodic Thai funk. Holding it all down and providing a framework for which to hang the songs on was drummer DJ Johnson, his playing channeling everything from hip hop breakbeats to James Brown and Portishead.

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Their breakthrough album Con Todo El Mundo provided a large portion of their set but there were also dips back into their debut The Universe Smiles Upon You, with White Gloves being a particular highlight and one of the only songs to feature all three on vocals. As the set progressed we got a strange interaction between Lee and a lonely looking green telephone which seemed kind of pointless and a successful attempt by Speer to get everyone in the room to introduce themselves to the person standing next to them.

Before the encore the entertainment factor peaked with a medley that saw seamless transitions between songs by Ol’ Dirty Bastard, A Tribe Called Quest, Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game, and culminating in the crowd joining in on the chorus to Spandau Ballet’s True (via PM Dawn). 

What the trio showed was their ability to translate their music from the intimacy of their recordings to the live stage, where they balanced nuance with deep grooves, hypnotic and sensual rhythms, humour and exceptional musicianship.

DOUBTFUL SOUNDS – Spotify Mix Series

Doubtful Sounds Mix 003 Spotify

We’ve got a new series of mixes happening over on Spotify. As is our want, these are all over the show. One minute you’re in downtown LA in the 80s, next you’re off to New Orleans in the 20s before a quick jaunt to Auckland in the 1990s. Dub, post-punk, glam metal, ambient, pop, country and jazz. Anything goes.

Catch up with the first three mixes below….

INTERVIEW: The Black Seeds

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It has been five years since The Black Seeds released their last album, but after internal changes and abandoned recordings the Wellington reggae/soul outfit are back and firing on all cylinders with their new album Fabric.

Back in 2014 The Black Seeds were immersed in the recording of a new album, one that head Seed Barnaby Weir was touting as ‘a Black Seeds fully original mixtape’. At the time he was optimistically anticipating a 2015 release, but then… nothing eventuated. Now, a new album has indeed finally emerged but it isn’t the same one they were working on in 2014.

“At the time we we were working on that album and Mike Fabulous (guitar) and Tim Jaray (bass) were still in the band. We got about 50% of the way through and then those guys decided to leave the band, at different times, and so that was the main delay,” explains Weir. “It was totally amicable, they’d both been in the band for 13, 14 years and Mike was also doing his solo project (Lord Echo) and wanted to focus on that. Tim has kids and wanted to focus on them and so while it was a challenging time and it was a shame we didn’t get to put out that album we were working on, it was also a good time to realise that we could still continue and that we wanted to continue. That was the main holdup and why it has been five years since our last album.“

Rather than continuing the work they’d started on the abandoned album, Weir was keen for the new lineup to be on whatever new record they would release. “We did totally change our stance and content and direction. We started off with a new bass player and Ned Ngatae, who wasn’t a new member but he became the full-time guitarist. We wanted to make sure that going forward we got all the guys on the album and make it a good solid release. We didn’t want to use the half album we’d made, we wanted to start afresh and make a commitment to that. As a  result, none of the songs were rushed or token inclusions,” says Weir.

In terms of the content of Fabric, Weir explains that the sound and the theme of the album is one that encapsulates all of the elements that make up the band. “When you start to collate songs for an album it starts to have its own life and build steam and momentum but it’s not necessarily purposeful and discussed. It’s more organic creatively and it starts to appear and get its own character. The fabric of our lives and the world, our community and existence plus the physics angle and particles of energy all came together as a theme that I delved quite deeply into.,” Weir reveals. “As a band I think we probably pushed the envelope a bit more on this album. It does sound a bit different but I’m glad it does and I’m really happy with the tones and the patterns and that it doesn’t all sound the same.

Now approaching their 20th year as a band, Weir looks back fondly on those early formative years and is equally excited about both The Black Seeds’ present state and future possibilities. “In the beginning we were a bunch of guys who were volunteers and DJs at Radio Active in Wellington and we just had a love for music and in particular for American soul, Jamaican SKA and dub and there weren’t many bands in the late 90s who were doing that. Initially we played full, elongated, heavy dub jams and it was quite instrumental. With the first two albums we made a shift and started making more songs and started becoming a more serious band rather than just a party band,” recalls Weir, before adding… “The fabric of the Black Seeds is a long term experience as musicians and we’ve always had that emotional and philosophical element in our music. I think this time around we’ve put together quite cohesively. We’re looking to the future and feeling good about it!”

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Fat Freddy’s Drop – Bays

Rating8fat-freddys-drop-baysIt’s only been two years since the release of Blackbird, making this a quick follow-up in the world of Fat Freddy’s Drop. The reassuring thing about the Wellington band is that as their stock has risen they haven’t compromised their musical approach by shortening songs or devolving them to standard structures in the pursuit of hit singles.

They continue as they left off on the last album, if anything hitting a stronger strain of dark dub techno infused rhythms. The way they play with restraint, delaying the drop and stretching out the grooves is the key to their compositional and soulful interplay. ‘Slings & Arrows’ is one of their finest singles, steeped in digital dancehall toughness. It’s contrasted by the dark pulse of ‘Razor’ which shares similarities with Depeche Mode and Mogwai’s recent album.

Consistency is a key on Bays. At times in the past they’ve taken their collective foot off the pedal and allowed some filler onto their releases but here everything works equally well. There’s a balance and flow, much like their epic live shows, that, over its nine tracks, makes it their most listenable release. Vocally, Dallas Tamaira’s voice is as soulful as ever, adding the human element to the music in a number of styles. From the acid jazz vibe of ‘Makkah’ to the quick-stepping house groove of ‘Cortina Motors’ that snakes and gathers momentum over ten glorious minutes before he croons over the measured digi-funk strut of closer ‘Novak’. Bays is a sublime addition to the band’s discography.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Fat Freddy’s Drop | Blackbird

by Chris Familton

Rating8square-600Fat Freddy’s Drop don’t rush things with this only their third full length album in 14 years (excluding a pair of live albums). That steady approach is also one of the defining aspects of their sound and their propensity for slowly evolving electronic, soul, dub and funk workouts that equally nurture listener’s limbs and ears. Blackbird is without doubt their most cohesive and rewarding work to date.

The general mood of Blackbird is a darker one. On the surface all the elements of what makes them so unique are present and utilised but they’ve managed to economise the ebb and flow of the new songs and create a sprawling yet finely tuned record. Opener Blackbird uses its near 10 minutes to blend funk inflected soul with a swinging dub bass line and reverb drenched horn section, sounding very similar to compatriots The Black Seeds and taking them closer to the dance floor than they have for a while. They also approach a pop format in the first official single Clean the House which captures a pulsing, vaguely Motown groove allowing the other instruments, in particular the guitar, to paint some wonderful melodic stabs and phrasings. Bones lightens the album considerably with its breezy Spearhead-ish vibe and feels comparatively inconsequential before the squelchy electronica of Soldier heads back to darker dub territory. The last three tracks all exceed seven minutes with Never Moving in particular mixing up a swirling electro-funk quick-step that finds them stretching out further into EDM.

Blackbird is a defining example of rhythm-based musical cross pollination that sounds perfectly natural in the hands of Fat Freddy’s Drop; furthering their exploration of structure, nuance and sonic texture with glorious futuristic results.

this review was first published on The Music and in Drum Media

INTERVIEW: Fat Freddy’s Drop

A NEW FLIGHT PATH

FAT FREDDY’S DROP ARE ABOUT TO TAKE LEAVE FROM RECORDING THEIR NEW ALBUM TO PREVIEW IT AT THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE. KEYBOARDIST DOBIE BLAZE GIVES CHRIS FAMILTON AN INSIGHT ON THE TOURING LIFESTYLE AND THE BAND’S CREATIVE PROCESS.

New albums aren’t a common occurrence in the world of Fat Freddy’s Drop. To date there has only been 2005’s debut Based On A True Story, Dr. Boondigga & The Big BW in 2009 plus an EP and live album. Ever since the band first formed around the start of the new millennium the’ve maintained a strong focus on their live shows and subsequently touring has taken up a major part of their time and played a key role in their songwriting process. As the band readies themselves for a brief run of dates in Australia they are also in the middle of recording their next album Blackbird which will take flight in the first part of 2013.

Europe is a key territory for Fat Freddy’s Drop and the region where they have focused most of their international touring. The band recently got back from another tour there which keyboardist Dobie Blaze (Iain Gordon) rates as the most enjoyable one they’ve done in terms of the shows and the personal relationships between band members on the road.

“It was an awesome tour, the best we’ve ever done really. It was a combination of our own shows and festival shows so we had great audiences and lots of beautiful venues. We get on really well on the road, especially with touring being managed so well which is a huge part of everyone getting on. We have an amazing tour manager through Europe and it’s just the way they structure the tour that takes the stress out of it. Everyone is there to do the job so no one gets pissed off. On the tour I don’t think there were any issues so it is nice to come home and feel like it was a success and there is no big drama to deal with when you get back.”

Returning home, in Blaze’s case to Paekakariki just north of Wellington, is a chance to recoup and reunite with family who don’t get the chance to accompany the band on the road, as much as they would like to share the experience with them. “When you get home it is a case of back to reality. As my wife puts it, it takes a little while for me to land,” chuckles Blaze. It’s always wonderful getting back to family so by the end of the tour you can’t wait to get home and the kids can’t wait to open their presents. Life on the road is very different, it’s all go and you get into your routine of bus travel and sleeping when and where you can. There is the luxury of living in hotels and not having to clean up after yourself though. You have to change those bad habits a lot when you get home. It’s great to be able to have those experiences as part of my life though.”

Fat Freddy’s Drop have played Sydney a number of times but this will be their first performance at the Sydney Opera House, as part of the Graphic festival, where they’ll be previewing the forthcoming Blackbird album accompanied by animation and illustrations. It promises to be a special evening as the band combine music and visuals in a venue seen as one of the world’s best. “I’ve got absolutely no idea what to expect from the Opera House so I’m really looking forward to checking out such a legendary and prestigious venue. It feels like we are doing something very grown up and arty,” says Blaze before adding “ I better go and get a new hat from my hat man for the occasion.”

This interview was first published in Drum Media.

Listen to the brand new single Silver And Gold from the forthcoming 2013 Fat Freddy’s Drop album Blackbird: