‘Tuned In’ review: Fat Freddy’s Drop flies high with ‘Blackbird’

Fat Freddy's Drop

Fat Freddy's Drop

'Blackbird' by Fat Freddy's Drop

"Blackbird" by Fat Freddy's Drop

A pharmaceutical company ought to buy the rights to distribute Fat Freddy’s Drop’s new “Blackbird,” because it’s the equivalent of a formidable drug, an easy-to-take tranquilizer with no side effects.

The New Zealand band is rooted in reggae and dub, but it doesn’t numb the senses with brain-destroying repetitions like many others in those genres.

Instead, Fat Freddy’s Drop’s loops pull along sensual rhythmic enhancements from the funk and blues realms, get old-school R&B kick from playful horns and are shaded with tasteful electronic touches by Chris “Fitchie” Faiumu. Then there’s lead vocalist Joe Dukie’s uncommonly soulful vocal, which adds the kind of intimate textures that often go missing in the hollow reverberations of reggae and dub by other acts.

Nevertheless, the Kiwis are in no hurry to push listeners through this rich experience. And there’s no shortage of the lilting echoes or that unmistakable reggae cadence. The tracks are spacious, casually structured and sometimes overly protracted.

Yet with all the other elements swirling around, the hypnotic atmosphere is subtly magnetic, not repellent. Dukie baits the hook on the title-track opener, his throaty voice steadying the wobbling electronics as he sings such symbolic lines as, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do/All these blackbirds in my garden.”

Later, the synergy of styles on “Silver and Gold” creates snowballing tension; Dukie’s declaration he’ll “take my time with you” on the funky “Bones” sounds straight out of the 1970s; and the pulsing layers of “Soldier” create an alluring aural hug.

Ultimately, “Blackbird” will leave listeners feeling relaxed and not hung over in the morning.

Rating: 3.5 stars (out of five)

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