Review Summary: A true representation of New Zealand music.
New Zealand. We’re a strange, diverse bunch, and our music is much the same. But what exactly does that mean? Well, it’s just like ice-cream. You may have heard of a flavour but you never know what it tastes like until you’ve tried it. Recently, I chose the quintessential New Zealand flavour of music. So if you’re looking to do the same, allow me to whet your appetite.
Fat Freddy’s Drop was born in the melting pot of the arts scene in Wellington back in 2001. The seven-piece toured frequently, funded their own record label, and released a live album during their first year together. In May 2005, “Based on a True Story” graced the charts for the first of its 107 weeks in our Top 40, eventually selling 105,000 units (seven times platinum in NZ) and garnering various admirable accolades; New Zealand’s first independent release to hit number one and the country’s second greatest selling album. The BBC’s Worldwide program even classed it as their Album of the Year, and for a kiwi band to be recognised that far away is a pretty big thing here.
“Based on a True Story” encompasses the true kiwi sound as it effortlessly weaves roots, dub, reggae, soul, jazz and funk throughout the record. Although this is common for many New Zealand bands, Fat Freddy’s Drop have the X factor that makes their music such a joy to listen to and stand out above the crowd. Wandering Eye, the primary single from the album builds with an ostinato bassline and syncopated guitar chords, while the brass section utilises crescendos during the verse. The chorus opens with vocalist Dallas Tamaira’s pronouncing “I got the wandering eye”, to which the horns reply with the equivalent melodic motif. Roady injects the soul and funk into the album, declaring that FFD “…do it for the love of music” before a skillful trumpet solo by Toby Laing ends the piece. “Based on a True Story” also relaxes at times, for example on the finale Hope, where the double bass and keyboards work together with the vocals of Tamaira and guest diva Hollie Smith to craft a laid back atmosphere akin to the record’s overall feel.
The performances on the album seldom relies on technical prowess, rather they focus on musicality and producing catchy, well-rounded compositions. FFD choose to explore more melodic motifs, where the horns effortlessly mingle in the mix of the music, floating majestically over the rhythm’s soulful currents, yet easily dip below the surface, waiting for the next wave to appear. Dallas’ soothing vocals illuminate the song’s atmosphere regardless of major or minor key tonality, and the drums always accentuate the style whether it be the reggae feel of “Cay’s Crays” or the upbeat soul of “Roady”. For these musicians, the style they play is always natural.
For me, it’s hard to imagine what the rest of the world thinks of our music. Before Flight of the Conchords, one-hit-wonders “OMC” were the best musical export we had entering #10 in the US singles chart back in ’96. Now they’re NZ folklore. But now the rest of the world has the opportunity to hear one of NZ’s best records – Based on a True Story.