Jason Randall Smith
"This is a band with an airtight lock on the groove..."
The universal language of music is best summed up by the members of Australia's own Frieda's Boss, each representing a different global locale. Sharing a love of reggae that stretches from Jamaica to Germany to Russia to Korea to the Netherlands and back to Australia, their respect runs deep for the music and for each other. It's been two years since their debut E.P. and The Underhill Account makes good on avoiding the sophomore slump. The sextet keeps things short and sweet, running through six songs in just under 20 minutes. Right from the first listen, it's clear that this band has spent their time wisely between releases.
The fierce brass bursts of "I I I (I No Longer Care)" may bowl you over if you're not ready for them. This is a band with an airtight lock on the groove, as shown by the synergy shared between the bass, guitar, and drums. Lead vocalist Train defiantly vocalizes breaking away from marital bondage within the lyrics, ripping through the verses in an monotone chant that's slightly sung, but with a hip-hop emcee's cadence. It's a delivery that truly sells the lack of emotional ties in the lyrics while still managing to stay as upbeat as the instrumentation underneath. "Bastards" is simply galvanizing, an underdog anthem for working people everywhere. As Train and Vstylee sing "Don't let the bastards get you down," you can hear the happy hour crowd join in, raising a glass in unison to the chorus. Stanwah's trumpets are nothing short of triumphant on this tune, adding staccato shots that feel like fists pumping heavenward in rebellion.
Since "Bastards" is reminiscent of the classic reggae tunes that would have come out of Studio One, it's only right that it's followed by a proper dub version. "BastDUBs" is sonic science personified, a moment to bow down to the altar of King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry. A tip of the hat is certainly due to recording engineer Tamlin Tregonning, who serves up the studio tracks as fodder for the echo chamber. Vocals, guitars, drums, and horns slide in and out of shadows, leaving the cavernous tones of the bass unscathed, representing the daily grind that awaits us all once the weekend's done. Meanwhile, "Dreadlocks Nuh Kill Yuh" manages to do the impossible: make a good-natured song about stereotypes and first impressions. As Train verbally two-steps his way through various scenarios, it's hard not to wonder how many of them he has experienced himself. Reminding the listener that "appearances deceive you all day long," his words bounce in time to a chicken scratch guitar and some killer horn accents.
"Never Leave" slows things down to a lover's rock tempo, but it's obvious from the lyrics that this couple's love is on shaky ground. Vstylee provides ample vocal support with sweet coos and breathy background harmonies while Train croons through relationship strain, choosing to stick it out for the kids ("Never leave (because I love them too much)"). The E.P. closes on a high note, paying respect to Jacob Miller's "All Night Till Daylight." Frieda's Boss chooses the ska route with their take and it's a perfect fit, remaining faithful to the original while increasing the energy with its faster tempo. You can imagine the band concluding their live shows with this one, the bass providing the foundation for the rhythm guitar to pogo from, Vstylee adding her arresting tones in sync with Train's rude boy adlibs, and Stanwah delivering brass jabs that aim straight for your skeletal frame. Authentic and accessible at the same time, Frieda's Boss leaves the audience wanting more, and The Underhill Account is likely to send demands for a proper full-length album through the roof.
Artist: Frieda's Boss
Album: The Underhill Account
Reviewed by Jason Randall Smith
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)