While super-producer Fred again..’s complex yet club-ready April debut album ‘Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2020)’ was centred around lost connections and uncertainty — with the pandemic serving as an apt backdrop — its follow-up chronicles the death of a loved one.
Fred Gibson, the Brian Eno protégé who has notably collaborated with the likes of Stormzy, Ed Sheeran and The xx‘s Romy, documents the many stages of grief on ‘Actual Life 2 (February 2 – October 15 2021)’, turning fragments of conversation into a personal music time capsule that aches with emotion and eventual catharsis.
‘Roze (Forgive)’, which offsets bumping synths with orchestral-sounding strings, is surprisingly upbeat for a break-up track, while ‘Gigi (What You Went Through)’ combines chopped-up voice clips, a soulful falsetto and stirring piano keys with expansive electronic production. It’s the sonic embodiment of masking one’s true feelings.
An album of two distinct parts, the first half’s more sombre and reflective tone is epitomised by the slower, crushing ‘Kahan (Last Year)’, which sees Fred starting to open up and process his loss. “I’m still trying to work it out,” he sings, before eventually coming to the gut-punch realisation that “I know I can’t change it now… can I?” The contemplative ‘Tate (How I Feel)’, meanwhile, teeters on the edge of the dancefloor, lyrically pondering how he can carry on.
Taken in context of the album’s overall narrative rather than as a standalone single that conveys the longing and shared elation of clubs reopening post-lockdown, the patiently euphoric ‘Hannah (The Sun)’ marks the record’s turning point and reflects a sense of renewal. It’s like opening the curtains and letting the light in – both physically and metaphorically – after so feeling alone in the darkness for so long. “We gon’ make it through,” the eponymous voice, which belongs to a construction worker Fred met in Atlanta whose uplifting, inspirational pep talk was frequently sampled on ‘Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2020)’, encourages on ‘Carlos (Interlude)’.
From ‘Hannah (The Sun)’ onwards, the second half of the record resembles a warm, comforting embrace as Fred finally allows those closest to help him. The epiphanic optimism and ravey utopia of ‘Tanya (Maybe Life)’, ‘Marco (And Everyone)’ — which cleverly gathers snippets of the previous tracks in a montage style over a bass-heavy beat — and the rapturous ‘Billie (Loving Arms)’ emphasise the curing power of physical intimacy while reassuring us and Fred that everything’s going to be OK.
Fred’s also aware, however, that these moments of clarity don’t last forever, and those engulfing dark clouds can return at any time. Accordingly, the sincere Bon Iver-style ‘Mollie (Hear Your Name)’ is the producer’s way of finding peace and trying to move on while learning to come to terms with the fact that it’s perfectly OK to feel how he did. “I couldn’t see, over the hurt of me,” he considers, before concluding: “I won’t feel ashamed, when I hear your name.”
The album’s poignant closing words — “I know there’s been a lot of reasons to stop / I pray you haven’t done that” — provide a healing and hopeful end to a multi-layered chapter of Fred’s life that commendably wears its heart on its sleeve, no matter how painful it might have been to share.
Release date: November 19
Record label: again.. Records / Atlantic Records