Saturday, January 2, 2010

Fat Freddy's Drop - Dr Boondigga & the Big BW

The seven musicians that comprise this New Zealand collective are all veterans of Wellington’s live music scene and it shows. They play well to each other's various strengths and influences and in doing so create a unique blend of conscious roots-reggae, funk, jazz and spacey, electronic dub.

In lieu of a drummer, rhythm is handled by founding member and multi-instrumentalist Chris Faiumu aka DJ Fitichie, who uses his MPC to create various grooves from the standard hip-hop variety to Caribbean-style syncopation to 4-to-the-floor techno. Keyboards add synthesized atmosphere and dubbed-out sonics as well as hefty amounts of sub-bass to the mix. A versatile three piece horn section(trumpet, saxophone and trombone) provides much of the flavor that makes FFD’s sound so distinct - bringing the funk, soul or reggae accordingly. Then there’s vocalist Dallas Tamaira’s velveteen croon, which holds the whole thing together. The resulting product is something like how a futurist Motown record made in a Studio One echo chamber might sound.

Dr Boondigga.., the group’s sophomore release, is divided into nine songs which sprawl out over 70+ minutes without ever really losing focus. The listener is eased in nice and smooth with Big BW, a luscious piece of neo-soul. The drums slap hip-hop-style and the sleek horns, spacey synthetic ambience and rolling bass line would be right at home with the G-Stone dub of and downtempo of Kruder & Dorfmeister et al.

The Raft is an elegant play on roots reggae ala Midnight, but modernized with electronic flourishes. The pulsing rhythms of ShivaMan and Wild Wind take the dub aesthetic deep into electronic country, while still maintaining a live feel. On both tracks, Tamaira’s voice floats in and out of a low-end chasm where guitars, horns and keys reverberate and various sound effects ricochet in classic dub tape-delay style.

Other pieces, like The Camel, featuring singer Alice Russell, lean heavier toward traditional American sounds. The song’s guitar lick and horn blasts are decidedly funky, but the hook and especially Russell’s raw vocal delivery create a satisfyingly bluesy edge. The Nod moves even further into Americana, heading south toward New Orleans jazz territory; with lyrics about cooking up soul food and a raucous brass breakdown - complete with tuba - that’s got all the bawdy energy of Bourbon Street.

Pull the Catch, the album’s first single (and probably my favorite song) incorporates all the of band's many influences. Beginning with a lo-fi, retro-dancehall riddim, it blasts forward in time and fidelity; shape-shifting into high-tech, Gucci, Spacek soul. The groove is laid-back but deliberate. The reggae guitar-picking, Tubby-esque horn arrangements and galactic atmospherics especially well suited to Tamaira’s vocal style.

There are great live bands and there are great studio bands. Fat Freddy’s Drop is a phenomenal live band who’ve have gone and made a great studio record. Props.

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