NEW ZEALAND: Based On A True Story - Fat Freddy's Drop
Updated: Dec 4, 2020
Fat Freddy's Drop bridge the gap between the electronic dance world and the world of live instrumentation perfectly.... What’s not to love?
When the two of us begun this process of listening to albums from every country in the world, whilst we had common ground in some aspects of our music taste we have since certainly bonded further regarding a shared music taste. From Pakistani qawwali music to Balkan brass bands, Joel and I have found a mutual appreciation for genres that might be an acquired taste for your average Tom, Dick, and Harry. However, one thing that persists to separate us is my unending love for reggae music and all genres that are adjacent to it, and Joel's apathy towards it. It therefore comes as no surprise that this multi-genred symphony of joy falls exactly into my wheelhouse and that I would go so far as to claim it is one of the best albums we have reviewed on this odyssey of music, even if Joel might not have clicked with it.
“...whilst they self-identify as the "seven headed soul monster" there seems to be a telepathic connection between the seven heads of this beast, as each of the band has their chance to shine in what feels like a very perfectly coordinated jam session.”
This record makes me desperately wish to somehow gain permission from the fictional Marty McFly to go into the DeLorean time machine in order to head to a venue in Wellington in the early noughties in which Fat Freddy’s Drop were playing. Even though this is not likely to be possible, never say never. Despite this, I have been fortunate enough to be in the crowd for some pretty special gigs and can reflect that all my best live-music experiences have each given me a unique feeling that just listening to Based On A True Story with my earphones in somehow seems to encapsulate all of those emotions and thoughts simultaneously. The evocative nature of the album in its ability to bring back an amalgamation of memories and feelings, is perhaps down to its totally unconventional approach in which it skirts between my favourite genres.
Being in the audience for two particularly special reggae gigs, The Wailers and Israel Vibration (the latter of which a friend of mine rather poetically described as her ‘heart being given a massage and a cuddle’) were truly uplifting experiences. The positive vibes of the bands radiate onto each and every member of the audience. Rather impressively simply listening to the Fat Freddy’s Drop album had a similar effect in which I felt immersed in the love and joy the band clearly have for playing their songs. The album also reminded me of a concert I went to of my favourite modern band, Vulfpeck, the rather unconventional American funk outfit. This is because in much the same way Fat Freddy’s Drop were clearly not making music that had any kind of overt commercial nous behind it with the tracks averaging at about seven minutes each, not exactly what most radio stations are looking for. Rather it seems obvious that they were hoping that some of their more bizarre composition choices would attract a small cult-following, but inexplicably, just like Vulfpeck, they grew huge even though nothing about them and their general weirdness indicates that they would.
I can reel off numerous examples of connections to other artists I have seen play live, but if there is one memory it particularly triggers was watching Stevie Wonder opening with Master Blaster, a reggae-dance fusion track that has the capacity to get even the biggest curmudgeon up on their feet dancing whilst basking in the joy of the vibe. This is exactly what Based On A True Story does from the outset. Despite Ernie’s long introduction it acts as a signifier for its listeners to get ready for a show and if they are listening on their headphones/speakers to turn the volume up to 11. When I first heard this opening track whilst I enjoyed it I rather presumptively assumed that they were the New Zealander equivalent of the British band Gentleman's Dub Club. Yet, by This Room I had started to gain a sense that there was something that made Fat Freddy’s Drop; they are not just an incredibly accomplished dub, roots and reggae band, but that they have the musical talents of an epic jazz band whilst Dallas Tamaira’s vocals would not be out of place on a Motown track.
However, just three songs into this rollercoaster of musical appreciation, Ray Ray kicks off with an electronica start any skilled DJ would admire before Tamaira strikes once again with his soulful voice belting out the lyrics ‘what’s the world with no soul?’, before the rather stripped-back Dark Days comes in showing that they are not just a party band. At this point it felt like the group were just showboating their talents. In some senses that is effectively what they are doing. A band with seven different individuals would ordinarily be chaotic and cacophonous, yet, whilst they self-identify as the "seven headed soul monster" there seems to be a telepathic connection between the seven heads of this beast, as each of the band has their chance to shine in what feels like a very perfectly coordinated jam session. It has the relaxed energy and spontaneity of a jam, but they appear far too in sync for it to appear like an ordinary impromptu session.
The rest of the album is full of big bangers from different genres. Despite an epic first half, it could be claimed that the best songs are to be found in the second portion of the album with the fun ska track Roady, the nine minute electro-reggae titan Wandering Eye (perhaps the pick of the bunch) and Hope a throwback to soul classics from the likes of Diana Ross. Whilst New Zealand is probably best well-known for being the location for much of the filming of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I personally can guarantee that whenever anybody mentions the Pacific Island, I mention how great Fat Freddy’s Drop are, and if they haven’t heard this album then they should immediately check it out. With its epic horns and soulful vocals drenched in wonderful reverb, this album is just made for me. Give it a listen and there is a good chance that you'll realise it is made for you too.