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

Favourite Electronic Albums of 2013

DS 2013 elect favesIncreasingly electronic music is reasserting itself as a viable album length genre. Sure it still thrives on the single and the remix but more and more there are albums, primarily from the UK scene, that manage to straddle the headphone and dancefloor worlds or in some cases they work most effectively as immersive home listening experiences. Here are the albums that we found ourselves returning to most often in 2013.

Special mention to Burial’s Rival Trader EP which dropped late in the year and on first listens it sounds excellent. I decided to keep this list focused on albums but Rival Trader is no doubt one of the finest releases of the year and a great way to round out 2013.

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1. The Haxan Cloak – Extinction

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2. DJ Koze – Amygdala

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3.  Zomby – With Love

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4. Forest Swords – Engravings

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5. Fat Freddy’s Drop – Blackbird

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6. Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle – Perils From The Sea

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7. Depeche Mode – Delta Machine

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8. Special Request – Soul Music

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9. Machinedrum – Vapor City

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10. Atoms For Peace – Amok

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11. Disclosure – Settle

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12. Darkside – Psychic

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13. The Field – Cupid’s Head

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14. Holden – The Inheritors

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15. Four Tet – Beautiful Rewind

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16. Jon Hopkins – Immunity

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17. Tim Hecker – Virgins

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18. Daniel Avery – Drone Logic

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19. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest

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20. Logos – Cold Mission

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

2013 MID YEAR FAVOURITE ALBUMS

2013 mid year faves

Here we are again at list time, halfway through 2013 and already there have been a swathe of great albums released. We’ve been listening to an eclectic mix of stuff as usual including dub electronica, skronking freeform saxophone, abrasive art rock, retro-leaning post punk and heartstring americana. These are the records we’ve loved the most from what we’ve heard this year. There will be others from the last six months that we’ll discover as the rest of the year rolls out but we can at least highly recommend these ones – in no particular order…

  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
  • Protomartyr – No Passion All Technique
  • The Phoenix Foundation – Fandango
  • Kirin J Callinan – Embracism
  • The Drones – I See Seaweed
  • Fat Freddy’s Drop – Blackbird
  • Jason Isbell – Southeastern
  • DJ Koze – Amygdala
  • Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record
  • Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol 3: To See More Light
  • Zomby – With Love

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:

 

 

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Fat Freddy’s Drop | Live At Roundhouse London

written by Chris Familton

Fat Freddy’s Drop are at their best when they are on-stage in front of a heaving, swaying audience. Their patient slow-build and dedication to the mood and groove of music is a sight and sound to behold so a new live album is a real bonus for those seeking to bottle some of the experience or hear what all the fuss is about.

Live At Roundhouse London sees the seven-piece finishing up 2008 with a six week European Tour and fine tuning many of the tracks that ended up on last year’s Dr Boondigga & The Big BW. The only exception is Flashback from their debut which shows the band’s consistent quality of songwriting and arranging. They could have easily devolved into a party band like Cat Empire but thankfully they’ve maintained their focus on deep, full immersion jams that pull in influences from jazz to dub to house, hip-hop and soul music.

The Raft is the most dub-soaked track with it’s smoky horns leading singer Joe Dukie into a slow swinging soul vocal. Two thirds of the way through the pace quickens and mastermind Mu dials dub effects into the mix creating a swirling sonic gumbo before they gradually strip the song back to its instrumental framework, completing a musical journey over sixteen minutes.

Every track is over ten minutes which allows the listener to focus on the slow mutating soundscapes. The peak comes with Shiverman and it’s pulsing tech-house rhythms that build over ten minutes before carnival horns gloriously explode into life. Live albums rarely translate as effectively as the real experience. This one will leave fans salivating.

this review first appeared in Drum Media


REVIEW: FAT FREDDY’S DROP @ The Forum, Sydney (17/10/09)

The Forum always reminds me of an 80s nightclub with its mirrored ceilings and three storeys looking down on the stage. This gave the evening a somewhat club feeling that benefited Fat Freddy’s Drop by highlighting the electronic side of their sound. Too often they are lumped in with the dub/reggae genre when in fact they are much more than that. Theirs is a sound that soaks up the vibe of downbeat electronica, acid jazz as well as reggae, hip hop, funk and soul.

Up first in support was Mark Pritchard (aka Harmonic 313) accompanied by a fairly redundant Steve Spacek as MC. Pritchard mixed up an impressive range of styles from dubstep to ragga to dub and beyond. The focus on his sound is dark and often claustrophobic rhythms betraying a listening past that probably took in the industrial sounds of the 80s.

Fat Freddy’s Drop have now swelled to a 7 piece band plus MC Slave who hyped the crowd and rapped on The Nod. Strolling on stage looking the part in hats and sunglasses they proceeded to slowly (and I mean slowly) work their way into the set. The key to enjoying a FFD show is to give yourself over to the music. The journey to get to the anthemic sing-along parts is the point.

The Nod was a squelching funk odyssey with the keyboards of Dobie Blaze Stevie Wonder’ing across the top of the music and when Slave stepped up to the mic to add a dash of hip hop the crowed responded to his energy with thunderous applause. The section where they morph into a New Orleans street band was joyously received by a thousand grins.

Boondigga is perhaps the breeziest summer song on the new record and it came like a breath of fresh air after some of the longer and slow-burning songs. The crowd responded en masse with a sea of arms in the air, unable to stand still in one spot when the loping bass kicked in. The horns over the top worked wonderfully in that they added a mournful tone over an upbeat song.

Late in the set Shiverman was a real highlight, stretched and warped to almost unrecognisable dimensions it was a a dubbed out groove that just kept going and going. Dallas worked up his vocal around the swelling music with percussion darting in and out of the mix to create the sonic peak of the evening.

The bulk of the show was taken from the new Dr Boondigga & The Big BW album with some journeys back to Based On A True Story and what sounded like a new track or two. Minor disappointments were no airing of Hope or Midnight Marauders which you can’t blame them for as they must have played them to death by now. Dallas’s voice which is often the human focus of their sound was missing in the mix most of the night and could have benefited from more volume.

Fat Freddy’s Drop showed that their music is the focus, not the cheesiness that bands like Cat Empire trade in. They embrace diversity in sound and on stage they allow the music to simmer and grow at its own pace. The result was a genuinely and literally moving experience for both band and audience.

REVIEW: FAT FREDDY’S DROP – Dr Boondigga & The Big BW

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Written by Chris Familton, reviewed for The Dwarf.

FFDFinally 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.