Fred again..’s ‘Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)’ is Music Feeds’ Album of the Week. David James Young reviews.
The notion of “pandemic albums” might sound dystopic, but you can’t deny their place amid the landscape of 2020s releases. From megastars like Taylor Swift and Charli XCX to indie artists taking bedroom pop to its literal conclusion, such records have been a testament to the will of the creative spirit. No album quite encapsulated this feeling the way that Fred again..‘s Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2020) did upon its release in April 2021.
The debut studio album for Fred again.. was the sound of London producer Fred Gibson finding his own niche and thriving within it. Prior to establishing the concept, Gibson had fingers in multiple pies – he was a protege of Brian Eno, a co-writer for Ed Sheeran and a key collaborator of Headie One. However, by matching deep house with chopped-up samples from unconventional realms – social media, poetry nights, voice memos – Fred again.. put his stamp on contemporary electronic music.
The magic, admittedly, wasn’t quite there on the follow-up, Actual Life 2 (February 2 – October 15, 2021). Despite some clear tracklist highlights, it didn’t really expand on the original concept, leaving it feeling more like a B-sides collection than a separate entity.
Actual Life 3 (Warner)
With that framework, we come to Actual Life 3. The high stakes weren’t lost on Gibson, who pushed himself to get everything perfect for the album, even cancelling a performance at Porter Robinson’s Secret Sky festival in order to add the finishing touches. With the album in our hands, it’s safe to say the push has paid off.
Not only does the trilogy’s finale – subtitled (January 1 – September 9, 2022) – surpass its predecessor in terms of consistency and cohesion, it also occasionally rivals the highs of the original. ‘Delilah (Pull Me Out Of This)’ pays loving tribute to 90s rave and the work of Underworld in particular. It pairs stabs of Gibson’s persistent piano playing with ascendant synth-strings, while an irresistible sample of London singer Delilah Montagu brings it together.
This transitions perfectly into ‘Kammy (Like I Do)’, a harder-hitting moment sonically, with its hammering beat loops, but equally emotive on account of the vocoder-laden sample work. ‘Kammy (Like I Do)’ opened Gibson’s now-famous Boiler Room set earlier in the year, and so hearing it actualised is a euphoric moment.
Fred again.. | Boiler Room: London
Another key element is the record’s callbacks and recurring motifs. Album highlight ‘Mustafa (Time To Move You)’ contains snippets of Fred again..’s 2019 single ‘Kyle (I Found You)’, the song that started the Actual Life concept in the first place. Three years on, hearing poet Kyle Tran Myhre speak of “smoking chaos” and kissing shoulder blades amid Gibson’s steady build of textured, layered production still elicits goosebumps.
The same can be said of the appearances made by Carlos, the Atlanta construction worker who Gibson encountered by chance, and Australian singer-songwriter Angie McMahon. Both tessellate perfectly with Gibson’s production, and the former in particular resonates with the message of sun-rising perseverance of ‘Bleu (Better With Time)’.
It’s a timely reminder that although the voices Gibson samples across the three-album trilogy represent different countries, generations, occupations, orientations and life experiences, their words are unified under the Actual Life banner to reflect on hope in tumultuous times.
- Fred again..’s Actual Life 3 is out now.