It used to be called post-rock, the crossroads where guitar bands messed about with wires, and tunes gave way to fax machine tones. And – with their
maths degree courses and stashes of jazz records – young Londoners Fridge ([I]Fridge![/I]) were there as just the full moon came up. They named their albums things like ‘Ceefax’, and forged an oblique instrumental sound that looked to dance music for technology and polyrhythms for brownie points, but remained rooted in the grubby practice room. It was clever. Fortunately, it was also good.
Fast-forward four years, and even as the idea of post-rock became a cliche, Radiohead embraced modern digitals and Alice Coltrane. The electronica mill is now looking to folk pastorals for grist and one of Fridge – Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet – is a leading light of the new organic underground. So much so, in fact, that few would have been surprised if Fridge had been quietly wound up, with Adem Ilhan going off to score plays and drummer Sam Jeffers putting his feet up and watching the cricket. Instead, Fridge have made easily their finest record yet, a genre-shrugging masterpiece of delicate musicianship and warm feeling.
There’s the insistent bloop of a reversing lorry, and a dripping digital tap on one track, inevitably. But they are the exceptions to a subtle, mesmerising rule of gradual musical shifts, where it sounds like the instruments on ‘Happiness’ are happily playing themselves. Free-form opener ‘Melodica And Trombone’ is a bittersweet duet between, yes, shimmering melodica and sad trombone, with a third party shaking a jazzy maraca in sympathy. The titles are all like that: bald descriptions that give little away of the emotional charge that lies just beyond. ‘Five Four Child Voice’ and its beatific guitar hopscotch, meanwhile, recalls David Pajo in both time signature and subtlety.
Other signposts? There’s Tortoise and Japanese electronica, but don’t let that put you offf. One of the great strengths of ‘Happiness’ is its lack of pretension, despite the ambivalent titles. Throughout, rhythms pitter-patter and glockenspiels flutter. Fragile grooves inveigle their way in and out of categories, now pure computer music, then suddenly naked but for a lone guitar feeding quietly back. It’s a flowered meadow of sound that gamely suggests happiness may not lie in the euphoric techno rush or the cathartic guitar orgasm, but in loving the microscopic details.