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Fat Freddy's Drop | Blackbird

album review by John Powell

Fat Freddy's Drop | Blackbird

For their third album, New Zealand’s Fat Freddy’s Drop laid down nine tracks they road-tested during a successful UK tour. The band found their MO by taking reggae and stripping it down to basics. Then they spice it up with soul. So, the band, although often classified as reggae, are more like R&B minus the blues. They’re just Rhythm.

Each song is carried by drum n’ bass and fantastically crafted horns. Blackbird is a healthy mix of synth-heavy electro funk and roots grit. On the opener and title track, Latin-doused piano transitions the intro into verse one, with singer Joe Dukie’s well-brewed tenor coming off nonchalant. “These shadows keep folding down,” he sings over hand percussion and a reggae riddim.

While Joe is definitely the ringleader here, the band is tight and more dynamic than his voice. The combination is interesting. Like much of R&B, they don’t often find hooks, which is the one weak spot for an otherwise exceptional set of tunes.

Instead, it’s a soothing trumpet solo, a piano and percussion breakdown, and slow build ups and drop offs that make this nine minute opener swell to its potential.

Yup, that’s right. Nine minutes. “Clean the House” is the only song under five minutes. It’s a creative use of time. The band has to have their songs move, otherwise they’d get stale.

Much like “Russia”, a thunderous dub-tastic groove. “Spend all the dime,” Joe croons. “Come follow me now/ I go to where the stream is flowing.” His lyrics are often disjointed and he relies heavily on cliché phrases, such as, “From my head to my toes/ and in between/ love put a spell on me.”

However, he is such a smooth singer, and the band is so attuned to what they’re doing. Everything falls into place like a puzzle. For “Silver and Gold” they drop reggae for soul-splitting techno pop. “You can’t break free from the silver and gold.” Okay, whatever. The lyrics aren’t cohesive, but the groove is danceable.

In fact, this whole album is a young lover’s dream. The album is sensual in sound, even if lyrically it’s a bit deeper than that. It’s a sexy album. It believes in its sound. The close-out, “Bohannan”, is a prime example. It skips over every other sound the Drop has worked with, becoming a seven-minute electronica dance song. It sounds great, especially in headphones. The album is crisp without coming off over-produced.

This is good news for the album’s best song, “Bones”, which sounds like a Ben Harper tune. Plus horns. Soul soul soul. Acoustic guitar thumps while the rest of the band digs into 1-4-5 heaven. I still don’t know what Joe’s talking about, but the chorus, “Get them bones in the water/ leave them all day,” is about as catchy as you can get, much different from the rest of the album.

“Never Moving” is a weird song. It doesn’t fit the other tracks. It’s synth heavy and loses the band’s grooviness. The band succeeds much better as a dub reggae band than they do as an electro-pop band, but props to them for doing their own thing.

Bottom line: Long songs, but they have dimension and it’s very original music. It’s surprising how well they blend their influences.


 

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