Album Review: Fred Again.. - 'Actual Life 2 (February 2 - October 15 2021)'

Fred again.. is a 28 year old singer, songwriter and producer from London. Having generated monumental commercial success and momentum in under a year with his first album 'Actual Life (April 14 -December 17 2020)', the pressure is on for a follow up record of equal quality. The Mic's Caradoc Gayer explores Fred again..'s second solo effort, 'Actual Life 2 (February 2 - October 15 2021)'

In the first year of my degree, I studied a poem called The Wasteland, by a poet named TS Eliot. It’s an important poem that every English student comes across sooner or later. Its fragmented structure was influenced by Eliot’s declining mental health and marital difficulties. Eliot focused these struggles into writing a poem about disillusionment and purposelessness, that weaves together many different narrative voices from across various locations and times, painting a picture of the urban modern world.

There is of course a reason why I’ve begun this review with a slightly-pretentious-English-student-spiel. Hugely acclaimed South London producer, Fred Again.. recently released the follow-up to his stirring debut album, Actual Life (April 14 -December 17 2020). This one’s called Actual Life 2 (February 2 – October 15 2021), and despite the miniscule break that he’s given himself between these two records (only six months), he’s showing no sign of stopping. These two records are supposedly only the first two entries in a long running, dance-music, ‘diary’ that he’s going to be working on in the future.

When I think about the Fred Again.. tunes that will follow Actual Life 2, I can confidently say that this man is composing a T.S Eliot-like electronic poem on urban life in 2021, that will likely resonate with people for years to come. To push this T.S Eliot analogy a little further, what’s fascinating about Actual Life 2, is that, like The Wasteland, it depicts Fred’s personal voice and personal struggles, by using other voices and perspectives by sampling.

"On this album and his last, Fred samples, splices, and chops audio from other songs, Instagram clips, nights out, face-time conversations, and answerphone messages."

Certainly, Fred’s talent usually serves to enhance other people’s art rather than his own; his production credits are staggering for an artist who has been so long under the mainstream radar. His resume spans leading roles in the big hits of Headie One, Romy-Madley-Croft, Stefflon Don, George Ezra, Clean Bandit, Little Mix, Ed Sheeran, and Stormzy. Fred no doubt takes after the ethos of his mentor; the ambient-music-pioneer-who-has-produced-for-every-artist-ever Brian Eno, who is known for his passive, less is more approach to production.

On this album and his last, Fred samples, splices, and chops audio from other songs, Instagram clips, nights out, face-time conversations, and answerphone messages. He surrounds them with emotive dance music, composed from rarely more than his laptop, smartphone, and a piano, albeit with a select few sequencers and synths. Like Brian Eno, he’s no doubt happy to take a back seat when creating much of his music.

In this way, the first Actual Life record was more focused upon the audio samples, foregrounding those separate voices, whereas Actual Life 2 brings Fred’s personality more to the forefront. He sings a lot more on this record than his last, writing lyrics that use the audio samples as a basis, then spiral off into his own words. An example includes Kahan (Last Year), built from an Instagram sample of Kodak Black saying I was out my mind last year. Wonder where my life half went,’ Fred adding and singing ‘It was every night, it was evenings all fired up.’ It’s a simple, yet fairly beautiful song-writing method, that elevates the personal story that Fred seems to be telling: both Actual Life records reflect his feelings of despair and catharsis for an ill loved one, the recent record focusing upon personal recovery.

This is a hugely honest and personal record for Fred. However, it is at its most powerful when it connects personally with the listener. You should shed all preconceptions when you first listen, forgetting about Fred’s biographical info, and putting the overexaggerated English-student-comparisons of this review to the back of your mind. This is a record that can speak to your connections with the people around you; it’s like a wild night out in a city with your friends, and tracks the highs and lows of those kind of experiences.

"...the single Billie (Loving Arms) conveys the thrill of human intimacy in a festival-ready track..."

The cloudy synthesizers and sleepy drum patterns of opener Catrin (The City), evoke feeling locked inside your own head, not opening up to those around you, ‘I fell out of love with you’. Later, one of the best tracks on the record; Tate (How I Feel), conveys the relief of expressing your inner self to someone, with its positive driving drum beat, kaleidoscopic vocal samples and piano flourishes.

Further down the line, the single Billie (Loving Arms) conveys the thrill of human intimacy in a festival-ready track, before the record ends on a bittersweet note in Mollie (Hear Your Name) – a track about coming to terms with loss and memory ‘I won’t feel ashamed, when I hear your name.’ The outro track, October 15th 2021, bookends the album with a vocal sample from Fred, ‘I know there’s been a lot of reasons to stop. I pray you haven’t done that. Forgive yourself now.’ Personally, I can’t think of another dance music record that ends in such a poignant way while speaking to so many people.

This record is by no means perfect, certain tracks do fall a little by the wayside, and Fred’s production could be made less over-the-top and sprawling for future instalments in the Actual Life anthology. It’s far from the most avant-garde, experimentally attention-grabbing dance record that’s ever been created, and won’t connect with everybody like it has connected to me. However, I don’t think anyone can doubt the unrivalled creativity and heart that has gone into Actual Life 2. Fred Again.. has brought an emotional resonance and a breath of fresh air for modern dance music. Who knows which exciting directions this unstoppable producer will go next?

Written by: Caradoc Gayer

Edited by: Elliot Fox

In article images courtesy of Fred Again.. via Facebook. Video courtesy of Fred Again.. via YouTube.