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With smooth, relaxing and compelling vibes, you'll find it hard to stop listening to 'Based on a True Story'. The music's full of soul, the vocals are excellent and the vibe is simply gripping.
The album begins with 'Ernie', a great song given a suitably lengthy introduction. A simple piano tune introduces the album smoothly, with a soothing reggae vibe breaking in around a minute later and locking you into a trance. The soft but pronounced trumpet notes accompany subtle vocals which strike the soul with insightful lyrics. This song sets the pace for the album, and 'Cay's Crays' has a stronger reggae vibe, with a slow tempo which also smacks of blues influences. The trumpets wonderfully suit the slow tempo of the vocals, making for an incredibly relaxing experience.
'This Room' deviates from this formula and offers a fresh new sound in the album, seemingly favouring the vocals over the audio and allowing Tamaira to express himself as a strong lead singer with soft vocals which deliver every time. Every note is pitch-perfect and although the sound is not as compelling as the songs preceding it, the vibe is just as pleasing. The heartbeat-esque beat which introduces 'Ray Ray' is another unique touch, offering a soulful feel which mirrors the song's lyrics and moves away from the earlier reggae-influenced tunes. In 'Dark Days' an acoustic guitar enters the mix, and offers another welcome twist in the music formula which leaves the album feeling eternally refreshing and new.
The sublime vocals in 'Flashback' are sadly let down by a tune which is simply too experimental, and, in attempting to merge all the band's influences, feels somewhat disjointed, while 'Roady' offers a soulful duet with a higher tempo and reggae tone which pleases once more. 'Wandering Eye' is a song which wouldn't sound out of place on a Hendrix album, with a certain tempo you immediately associate with the rock legend. Nevertheless, the song is still a unique entry and the trumpeted chorus is a joy to relish. 'Del Fuego' is another disjointed song, which sounds like it intends to be something it simply isn't: the blues vibes get lost in a sound which doesn't match the vocals all too well. The incredibly soulful 'Hope' ends the album on a high, though, with a distinctly soulful tone which, matched by insightful lyrics, make for an excellent listening experience.
In summary, 'Based on a True Story' is a versatile and unique entry from Fat Freddy's Drop which will have you mellowed out and relishing every note that Tamaira delivers. If it wasn't for a couple of songs which seem to overstep the balance between being experimental and being clumsy, this would be a sublime album. As it stands, it is a soulful and compelling experience which will have you hooked long after the album's over.
Based On A True Story - the album was at the peak of a wave of great kiwi music in 2005, kicked off by The Phoenix Foundations Pegasus and followed by releases from Wellington stalwarts Rhombus (check those bands out too if you havent heard of them already!).
Fat Freddys Drop are that almost mythical creature in chart-topping (well in some countries anyway) bands - purely, genuinely, talented musicians. Theyre not your typical media-savvy, image focused band, they are not uncategorically young, sexy and single. Some of them have families - thats right (shock horror!) ... kids. Now Im pretty sure that any record company you ask will tell you that the young (female?) demographic that are most often responsible for sending records rocketing to the top of the charts are not particularly attracted by the idea of kids, and wives. Thats just not the glamour life expected of popular musicians.
The Fat Freddys crew could pass unnoticed in many a crowd (although I would hazard a guess that their ability to do so is fading rather rapidly as the album begins to move into legendary status) and havent cultivated the rockstar look of lesser bands. But the album is undeniably awesome and speaks for itself. Who knows, maybe that has been a conscious decision on the part of the band? After all, they are the first band in NZ to reach number 1 on the charts on an independant label.
When you hit play on the album for the first time youre given over a minute of pared back keys and gradually building horns and bass. It brings to mind something akin to an old cinema where several layers of red velvet and then filmy off-white curtains are drawn away from the screen while the opening sequence is playing. Then the strong beat kicks in, ramps up after about 4 and a half minutes and remains pretty much at the fore-front of the music for the remaining 10 tracks. Foot-tapping, head-bopping, finger-drumming, oh yes youd better be prepared to shimmy.
The velvety smooth vocals of Joe Dukie aka Dallas Tamaira are like high quality Belgian dark chocolate - sweet, delicious and with just enough bite to be interesting. And while the lyrics, typically for the roots/dub genre, arent necessarily particularly inventive or thought-provoking (Ive got the rythm and the beats.. even if you dont like us - do it for the love of music. do it for the love of music [etc] all you gotta do is do it. we come to do it and so on), they at least dont get in the way of the deep beats and beautiful, sometimes quirky, melodies which are the real focus of the record.
While I often find myself listening to the album and not noticing when one track ends and another begins, there are nevertheless subtle themes and moods to each of the tracks as they switch the focus between guitar, keys and synths. A careful listener will pick up a raft of unidententifiable, somewhat mystifying sounds groovin along in the background and a number of quite special moments buried in the lulling tunes. Did I mention the collaborations? The contribution of some stunning vocals by Deva Mahal, Lady 6, and Hollie Smith gives the latter end of the album a real soul injection, and even a rather gospel flavour towards the end of track 8, changing up the flow nicely and adding to the versatility of the record.
Unfortunately it does go a little awry on track 7. The first half of the track is great but then slides dangerously close to shitty hip-hop with some rather average rap and just a tad tinny sax trills. The gymnast didnt quite stick the landing Im afraid and misses a perfect 10, but, no one said they had to be perfect and it only lasts a minute or so. Its a small price to pay as far as Im concerned.
The final verdict is that this album has been masterfully crafted. It sounds relaxed, chilled, smooth; all of which are actually really difficult things to achieve without ending up being mindless or uninspiring across repeat-listens. The music is layered and complex, in a way, which maintains ones interest past the initial honeymoon period, and yet pieced together so seamlessly that it seems to wash over you in a very soothing warm-bath kind of way. But maybe a spa would be a better analogy - coz theres only so much fun you can have in a bath while a spa, well theres a lot to get excited about there... If you are getting a little sick of the same old sounds with the same old accents, check out this album - it's perfect for summer, or just about anytime actually.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Cay's Crays
3 This Room
4 Ray Ray
5 Dark Days
8 Wondering Eye
9 Del Fuego