Let's start from just over halfway through the third album by Fat Freddy's Drop. It's the point where it goes beautifully bonkers, and showcases the band as not only the kings of laid-back and lilting epics but brain-rattling beat and soul mantras.

The first half of Blackbird is just what you expect to hear from Fat Freddy's. But then Soldier starts, soothingly at first, before the pressure drops, an eerie sonar sound takes hold and it plumbs the sonic depths, all with a nod to dub great Augustus Pablo. And from Soldier it ramps up into the pinging future funk of Never Moving, then Mother Mother moves from Caribbean trance done Aotearoa-style with big booming stabs of brass to stealth techno soul, and instrumental finale Bohannon grooves, grinds and bops away, taking you on one last enchanting trip.

It's on a run of songs like that where it's clear Fat Freddy's have come a long way since 2005 debut album, Based On a True Story, which was both a chart topper and a classic Kiwi record. It showcased Freddy's singular sound, which made them distinct, and the shining light of Aotearoa's many dub reggae roots bands of the time.

Though follow-up Dr Boondigga and the Big BW from 2009 took a typically lengthy time to arrive, it was also uniquely Fat Freddy's but different, with a more trippy, vibey strain running through it courtesy of songs like the excellent mantra of Shiverman alongside catchier tunes like Pull the Catch and The Camel.


On Blackbird - nine songs clocking in at 60 minutes - they sound more self-assured than ever. Not that it necessarily makes this their best effort to date.

The one weak link here is the workmanlike Russia, which is a shame because the old-school rap about Freddy's heritage, including a shout-out to pioneering Wellington sound system Roots Foundation, could have made for rousing stuff.

Elsewhere, while Bones starts off a little too much like a Jack Johnson jam, it soon morphs into Stevie Wonder's Have a Little Talk With God done Fat Freddy's style, and is one of the sing-along, toe-tapping triumphs of the album.

What's also amazing is that these days it takes something magical to engage and pique people's short attention spans - but Fat Freddy's do it. And it's no better illustrated than on the album's title track. It starts woozy and dreamy, then the deliciously dinky chink and skank kicks in with Dallas Tamaira's sweet soul voice, and it holds you captivated for nine gorgeous clip-clopping minutes.

Blackbird is proof once again that these seven reggae, dub, and oonst funkateers know what it takes to make an accomplished and solid album that you'll be listening to for many years to come.

Stars: 4/5
Verdict: More of what you expect, but at its best when it's out there

- TimeOut