REVIEW: It must be a new year ’cause there’s a new one LABORATORY record.
like a clock, V marks the fifth year in a row that the Kiwi powerhouse has produced a tight collection of people-pleasing pop. The band dominates radio, draws massive crowds to shows and deservedly won four Tūī Awards in 2021, including Best Album, Group and Single for the ubiquitous hit. why oh why.
The secret to their success? No pretension. No rock and roll facade. Just sing-along jams that shamelessly mash up ingredients found in abundance in most Kiwi BBQ playlists.
Lots of reggae, lots of funk and a healthy dose of good old easy listening reminiscent of classic 70s songwriting. Keep it simple, just create memorable songs.
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V open strong with Can you be the one, whose close harmonies owe a lot to the Bee Gees. The softly hummed chorus builds gently over the slow groove decorated with sly string flourishes and lead singer Joel Shadbolt uses his chameleon vocals to exquisite effect.
Their albums tend to produce at least one mega hit and this could easily be the one. Again, it may be Under the sun, like fire, Where Mr Reggae, Moreover. A band with such a broad appeal makes it unpredictable which of their many and varied styles might find the most traction.
Mr Reggae, for example, is a simple slice of wah-guitar magic that sounds instantly familiar. It’s a bread and butter song for a band like this, but it’s very well executed and you can easily see it becoming a crowd favourite. Then you hear a song like Under the sun, that blows your mind by sounding like it could be a completely different band. Perfectly structured, with just a hint of country twang that feels like it could have been there forever.
Then you got vibes back to mine that permeate All night long, which turns its simple riff into a hypnotic, funky shuffle, with whimsical guitar playing that frolics freely throughout. They bring kings to spit rhymes on The real ones, while Shadbolt retreats to the background, connecting sections with a soulful hook. It’s the riskiest move and an obvious sore thumb, but I bet it works well with festival crowds.
LAB is open about its ambitions. They follow the Six60 school of stratospheric success, with stadium designs that reflect their lyrics back to them. They are on the right path and this impressive group has proven once again that there is not much they cannot do.
Bonobo started 2022 by delivering fragments, which is loaded with intriguing twists that delight and surprise. The British producer (real name Simon Green) hails from the Tru Thoughts stable (Alice Russell, Quantic) and has been churning out soothing tunes and warm, luscious soundscapes for two decades.
Some highlights come from collaborations, which always pull different shades from the versatile performer. The first is by local expat Jordan Rakei, who adds his soulful tenor to Shadows, which throws out a bold groove, then opens with an expansive, satisfying bop. Likewise, Jamila Woods provides gorgeous voice support on Tides and Japanese superstar Joji brings her laconic, ultra-harmonized emo side to Of you.
They’re all great, but I was even more excited about what he was doing on his own. I’m a sucker for the kind of minimal home he’s aiming for Rosewood, the volume knob kept going up seemingly on its own, and by the last drop, with synths whizzing past me and snare drums ricocheting around the room, I was the lunatic in the middle grinning from ear to ear. ‘other. He follows this with Ottomo, which doubles up on the energy of the dance floor, breaking up a relentless beat on an addictive bass surge.
Then there is the phase age, which combines everything Bonobo does best. Sweet vocals repeated over an ever-changing background of joyous rhythms woven into one, building to a cacophonous crescendo that explodes in glorious wonder, just like you think it’s cooked. An exhilarating, cathartic and satisfying start to the year.