A man with the gumption to release against the return of Adele, London songwriter and producer Fred again..’s moniker has become somewhat prophetic, as he is quickly becoming one of the most in-demand names behind the boards, having recently produced some hits for Ed Sheeran, Halsey and BTS. A remix artist at heart, his solo material still reflects where he got his start. His latest project consists of various vocal clips, mixed together to tell a story over an uptempo mix of house and dance-pop beats. The sequel to last April’s Actual Life, a grief-stricken project chronicling Fred and his friends and family’s stories through dealing with loss in 2020, Actual Life 2 still carries a lot of emotional weight – this time mostly due to a breakup, it seems – but finally adds a small dose of hope on the horizon. Each track is titled after the singer whose borrowed voice features most prominently, but the story is distinctly Fred’s. While the mixes can get a little repetitive when listening to the album throughout, this is a creative and rewarding project for the active listener.
After a spoken intro, the track “Catrin (The City)” sees Fred again.. immediately put on his producer hat and craft a track that sounds appropriately bustling. Set to a driving, constant drum n’ bass style beat, the whooshes of synths and percussion emulate the buses and trains zooming by, glitchy, chopped-up vocals creating a constant sense of electrifying energy. Fred samples an indie-pop leaning female voice, but pitches it down and adds his own. It’s a bit of a disorienting, uneasy vocal sound to get used to at first, but the distinct style that persists throughout the project is completely individual and Fred’s own way to get his story out. The tracks themselves aren’t that memorable, but the entire listening experience certainly is. “Roze (Forgive)” switches gears to a more soulful singer, set to the clicks and clacks of a more house-inspired instrumental. A new voice comes in, but Fred is pulling these disparate voices to tell the story of a breakup, trying to find himself in a new and unfamiliar place, and second-guessing his choices in an innovative way. There aren’t many lyrics in each track, mostly consisting of repeated loops of three or four vocal lines, but it adds a little more context each time as the project progresses. On the musical side, Fred using an impassioned vocal run essentially as a drum fill also shows off his creativity as a producer.
Even when tracks get a little softer and more contemplative, the driving dance backbeat is almost always still pumping, albeit a little more quietly, in the background. The track “Gigi (What You Went Through)” is built on pure-sounding, twinkly pianos and Prismizer harmonies. It’s a more tender moment at the beginning, but it steadily builds up into what sounds like multiple conversations overlapping as Fred’s narrative talks about a climactic fight. The overlapping words create the rhythmic structure of the track, once again telling the story in a creative way. A couple more famous voices appear on the next two tracks, the first, surprisingly enough, being rapper Kodak Black. On “Kahan (Last Year),” one of the most original, non-sampled tracks here with original melodies from both Kodak and Fred, the two mournfully sing about their mistakes, the beat finally fading out completely for one of the album’s most touching moments, a break from the madness to really reflect – and Kodak sounds surprisingly soulful! “Tate (How I Feel)” samples a Tate McRae cover of Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars,” and it’s easily one of the most memorable tracks here. Fred adds a repeated line from a track he did with UK rapper Headie One, and the rhythm with which he quickly slices up the syllables adds so much to the groove of the pounding bass and skittering percussion. Fred proves himself as a master of the build-up with this one, and it’s impossible to sit through it without moving.
Certain elements of tracks begin to make their return as the album winds to a close, and the main vocal line from “Hannah (The Sun)” becomes easily the most memorable one, a clip of singer Terra Kin covering Bill Withers’ “Just The Two Of Us.” Repeating “when the sun comes shining through” in a sweet, reverent and hopeful tone, Fred doesn’t do much past surrounding her with a standard dance groove and some bright synths, but he picked a line that communicated a positive outlook towards the future and gave it an appropriately sunny backdrop. By the time we hit “Faisal (Envelops Me)” and “Tanya (Maybe Life),” Fred’s instrumental palates and typical song structures are beginning to wear a bit thin, something that becomes all the more evident on the latter which spans over five minutes and is one of the more repetitive tracks here. Still, the interplay between Fred and his sampled vocalist on “Faisal” is another great moment, his breathy, ethereal tone bouncing off FACESOUL’s more nasal, overjoyed and celebratory one.
The track “Marco (And Everyone)” essentially functions as a mashup of some of the album’s most memorable moments up to that point, before we finally hit the album’s biggest song in “Billie (Loving Arms),” which similarly to “Tate” has one of Fred’s inexplicably more involved grooves. There’s something about his specific bass tones that hit harder, combined once again with warm and soulful piano chords – the track is highly club ready, and outside the context of the album when we’ve just heard 40 preceding minutes of somewhat similar material it would go off extremely well. The final track “Mollie (Hear Your Name)” is another minimal, slow-moving and subdued comedown as Fred finally comes to terms with the end of the relationship, but the truly powerful thing about it is the upbeat percussion, heavily muted but still there, still pounding away in the background. Actual life keeps going, through all the ups and downs.
Fred again..’s work in the pop realm has been largely rather safe, so it was a pleasure to hear his original element be a different genre entirely and to hear him get so creative in terms of his storytelling. I’d be very excited to hear him link up with some more groundbreaking artists in the future.
Favourite Tracks: Tate (How I Feel), Hannah (The Sun), Kahan (Last Year), Roze (Forgive), Catrin (The City)
Least Favourite Track: Tanya (Maybe Life)