Fred Again – Actual Life 2 (February 2 – October 15, 2021): Review

Before releasing Actual Life in April of 2021, Fred Gibson has been on my radar; especially, due to his craft on the boards. Producing for artists like Roots Manuva, Charli XCX, and Ellie Goulding, it wasn’t until he handled the production on Ed Sheeran’s No. 6 Collaborations album, where he became the true highlight. Since then, he’s wandered into novel areas where the sound is different from the previous ones, even when the tone stays constant. It’s adamant about staying true to its style. And Actual Life 2 (February 2 – October 15, 2021) improves in many ways, as Fred gets intimate and performs most of the vocals. He often adds an artist to amplify the synergy between production and vocalist and the subtleness or rather a quietness of their inclusions, which adds layers that breathe new life to the songs.

His debut album, Actual Life (April 14 – December 17, 2020), saw Fred Again weaving these vocal samples, recorded throughout this period and woven into songs that shifted the dimensions of the source material. Actual Life (April 14 – December 17, 2020) is like diary entries with music in the background and delivering a mood created by its vocals, which is slightly different on his follow-up, Actual Life 2 (February 2 – October 15, 2021). It isn’t to say Actual Life (April 14 – December 17, 2020) is devoid of Fred singing; it doesn’t have the depth like in Actual Life 2. With the former, Fred was able to make electronic music poetic by combining aspects of these people or artists that aren’t as expressive, like Julia Michael’s speaking vocals. The way he blends and shifts her speaking with the production creates a dazzling dance track about love.

Similarly, it’s done with greater depth on Actual Life 2 with songs like “Catrin (The City)” and “Kahan (Last Year),” the latter of which features Kodak Black. “Kahan (Last Year)” sees Fred Gibson’s version of “Hang On To Your Ego” as he and Kodak sing about the split disappointment from an addiction that altered his levels of happiness. Kodak isn’t as energetic or erratic, and instead, he is sounding more subdued and adding a surreal elevation to the lyrics and Fred’s performance. “Me (Heavy)” from the first Actual Life featured Fred singing and delegating his melodies, but it never stood out from the pack. Fred has the capabilities to make his vocal performances visceral, like on “Catrin (The City)” – vocal synthesizer adds contrast, and later, blending of his vocals with the sample brings forth elegant friction, especially for an opener.

It isn’t hard to immerse yourself within Electronic/House/EDM or any genre of that variety as long as the mix elevates your musical palette to new levels – one moment you’re vibing hard on the dance floor to colorful production and another you find yourself, back against a tree, listening to a new Norah Van Elken record while relaxing. Then there are those few moments you pop some drugs and rage. But Fred Gibson, or known by stage-name Fred Again, has found this immersive equilibrium where he touches on these various elements of the previously mentioned genres with a cadence. Like some of the songs I’ve mentioned before, he brings an array of different styles. A few are these fully realized dance tracks with flawless transitions between drops, like “Catrin (The City)” or the whimsical “Billie (Loving Arms).” 

What Actual Life 2 (February 2 – October 15, 2021) ultimately does, is explore more themes while symbolizing the next step in Fred Gibson’s career – incorporating more solo studio vocals and letting himself feel open. Here, it allows Fred to be himself. He’s more in tune with fleshing out the themes as he relates them to these stories/diary entries, making them feel lifelike. It’s more than the words he is singing in your ear. These songs like “Billie (Loving Arms)” and “Gigi (What You Went Through)” become this larger-than-life feeling.

Actual Life 2 (February 2 – October 15, 2021) benefits from allowing songs to feel free and atmospheric and having them contain their own identity in the long run. And from it, he rises above his first album and delivers a tighter and more nuanced follow-up that improves on one aspect of Fred’s music without forgetting the key strengths of the first Actual Life and further implementing them cleanly. I wholeheartedly recommend it, especially if you’re an electronic fan.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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