Written by Chris Familton, reviewed for The Dwarf.
Finally the new Fat Freddy’s Drop album sees the light of day. The band has been touring on the back of Based On A True Story for four years now and though their live shows are mesmerising the promise of new recorded material has been keenly anticipated by fans of their dubbed out soultronica.
Something of a minor backlash has been appearing on the New Zealand music scene with a few critics labeling the music as ‘BBQ Reggae’ and bemoaning the success of the band and its infiltration into the CD collections of parents and mainstream acceptance. Generally that accusation suggests a blandness on the scale of Jack Johnson and Coldplay, an unfair noose to hand around the neck of Fat Freddy’s Drop.
Dr Boondigga actually sounds as if they haven’t rushed into their second album. It reflects the location of the recording – Lyall Bay in Wellington, NZ – and it paints a picture of communal music making and a relaxed atmosphere. It does in fact present a more laid back Fat Freddy’s Drop with no sign that they’ve felt it necessary to ramp up the funk or dance elements of their sound to pull people into the music. This is music created deep in the groove, music to sway and nod to, music to soothe the soul.
Big BW drops some subsonic bass right from the outset. Bubbling and rolling bass lay the foundation for lush synth stabs and the ever familiar voice of Dallas floating over the top of the music. Sounding as confident as ever he is content to stick to what he does best, his pleading soul hymns are soft and sensitive and smooth as hell. Gradually the trademark horns work their way into the song, completing the Fat Freddy recipe and it serves as a great introduction to the album.
Shiverman quickly changes up a gear with its four to the floor kick drum and electronic dub effects creating a trance-like hypnotic groove. It is a great contrast to the first track in that it reflects the Fat Freddy’s live experience where they lock into rhythms and trap you there, drowing in repetition. The Raft takes the dub even deeper, like Mad Professor deconstructing Massive Attack as he did on No Protection. It is the closest Fat Freddy’s get to their compatriots Salmonella Dub.
Boondigga rolls the effects back to a traditional soul-funk groove that could be a smooth RnB love song dedication. It feels like Sade and Terence Trent D’Arby wrapped up in 21st century digi-soul. Pull The Catch takes the funk and creates a cyber version with staggered beats and the celebration of communal action.
The food theme from Pull The Catch continues on The Nod with its repeated phrase “Something’s cooking in the kitchen tonight” inviting everyone in to share a meal with its edible analogy. It also features the rapping of Auckland’s Slave which is provides a pleasant change from Dallas’ crooning which it must be said does lack stylistic range at times.
The most simple and beautiful moment on the album comes with the final track Breakthrough. After the darker shifting sands of some of the earlier songs it breathes fresh air and a warm light across the music by ending Dr Boondigga & The Big BW with a celebratory tribute to the dawning of a new day and an accompanying positivity.
So how does this stack up as the next chapter in the adventures of Fat Freddy? The diversity that reveals itself on repeated listens is where the strength of the album lies. They have painted with bright colours and dark murky tones. They relax on beaches and sweat in underground clubs and that is what makes this a great album, the range of sound and texture and the ability to create a mini-scene in every song. It won’t please purists in any one genre but for those of you who absorb the best from all musical styles then this will be a delight.