Fluently blending the foundations of dub with jazz, soul, and electronica, Based on a True Story is a smooth and summery listen. True to its reggae roots, the album’s mood is consistently mellow, providing an ideal vibe for those warm summer evenings. It flows at a steady tempo and seldom threatens to move away from it — even during the long digressions often responsible for lengthy song durations. When Fat Freddy’s Drop stumble upon a particularly good jam, they remain in that space for a good while. And who can blame them, because when it does soar, Based on a True Story is a highly enjoyable experience.
Joe Dukie’s soulful voice is the ideal match for such a laid-back arrangement: delicately gliding over contagious percussion sections, playful horns, and intriguing touches of synthesisers. Once “Cay’s Crays”, “This Room”, and “Wandering Eye” get into their stride, the balance is truly fabulous, and the soothing step of “Dark Days” provides a necessary mid-album highlight.
Whilst the songwriting generally holds up well, Based on a True Story would have likely benefitted from the occasional curveball in its production. On the surface there’s very little to criticise: the mixing is balanced, and each track is covered with a sparkling sheen that makes it immensely listenable. But its cleanliness acts as a double-edged sword. Some of the organic qualities get lost among the cleanliness, and it’s a strange moment of joy when you actually get to hear a spot of saturation.
The overly washed production disguises the fact that the album’s sleekness is actually one of its blemishes — at times, it’s just too silky for its own good. It means that Based on a True Story settles for being a good Summer album, rather than a great one, but it should nonetheless be commended for successfully amalgamating such a wide assortment of sounds.
7 out of 10
Based on a True Story was like listening to galaxy formation very slightly sped up. Numerous instruments and sounds go into the makeup of the album, but it takes an age for them to converge and take shape. When they do, the results are seductive, although not without their limitations. Early tracks are formless, passive, and overlong. This happens then that happens then it’s the next song. It’s not terribly gripping.
Happily, 25 minutes in, the record begins to spin a little. Reggae noir haze “Dark Days” has a harmony that was lacking in much of what led up to it. “Roady”, providing some much-needed impetus, takes sincere pleasure in its bounce. Meandering lead single “Wandering Eyes” is nearly ten minutes long, and just about earns it.
The album could stand to sound a little dirtier, a little less pristine. Subtle wah guitars, unobtrusive percussion, trumpets, backing singers, and Joe Dukie’s soft, soulful vocals weave a smooth fabric of sound, but it lacks the warmth the songwriting eventually deserves. The production, professional as it is, keeps things from really taking off. Based on a True Story is a slow starter to say the least, which is vexing, but the groove it eases into is a good place to be. Flawed, certainly, but worth visiting.
6 out of 10
Fat Freddy’s Drop have completely passed me by up until now, but listening to their debut release, Based on a True Story, has been a great entry point. Introducing themselves with tracks soaked in dub and reggae influences, the album sets a clear vibe for the listener. It produces a vast, sparse soundscape in the opening minutes of “Ernie” with a mix of jazz and reggae instrumentation and hollow, reverberating vocals, only to draw the listener into a busier, richer sound that continues on through the album.
The tracks that follow play with this balance nicely, putting the horn section front and centre alongside soulful vocals from Joe Dukie. These tracks are slow burners though, with the majority of the tracklist clocking in at seven minutes apiece, and this fusion of sounds does begin to make tracks hard to distinguish by the time the listener nears the 20 minute mark. It’s clear the band understood this though as tracks like “Ray Ray” and “Dark Days” introduce elements of soul and RnB as well as more electronic instrumentation to the mix, with the latter certainly returning my full focus to the album. Tracks continue to provide more experimentation with influences, instrumentation, and rhythmic curveballs, all with a smooth delivery and a (sometimes overly) clean production.
The remaining 40 minutes of playtime makes for a genuinely intriguing, enjoyable listen. My favourite moments pop up in “Roady” as the beat clicks into place and additional vocals from Ladi6 (Karoline Tamati) meld together brilliantly, while the midpoint of “Wandering Eye” throws another curveball into the mix that had me beaming with delight on each listen. It’s a great release from a band that I’d totally missed (despite their huge success in New Zealand!) and from a genre that I only wish I delved into more often. I’ll certainly be returning to it as a whole.
8 out of 10