It was July 29th, 2022, and The Boiler Room delivered a blessing with Fred Again’s first live DJ Set in one of their warehouses. The energy that filled the room was massive, people going buck wild to the point where one gentleman accidentally disconnected Fred in the dance madness or a modern chromeomania. We’ve gotten tonal variations, embodying his societal perspective within these time frames. There’s the passionate and sheltered Actual Life; the summery, blissful casualness of feeling self-indulgent when re-relinquishing yourself to the outside world of Actual Life 2, but with Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9, 2022), we’re getting more of that feeling of normality. With vibrant pieces synchronizing into this elegant shift into more sounds that shroud nightclubs and nightlives, partying and raving with friends, venue after venue, never seeming to stop with adrenaline pumping through your veins. At its core, one can dive in, get lost in a trance with the illustrative soundscape, and find it a beneficial mask to keep you close to the personality-less album.
The Actual Life albums, or series, focus on feeling instead of trying to establish the depth of character, specifically as it relates to Fred Again as an artist has been the misnomer of his craft. Though it’s more about the connections and their influence on the music, the samples, and vocal choices don’t always agree. Sometimes Fred performs original pieces from these connections with said singer-songwriter, other times blending samples with spoken word or original lines tacked on to sampled sequences. Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9, 2022) doesn’t offer more than surface-layer vibes flowing through creatively astute electronic sounds and a minor whirlwind of lesser songwriting. There have been thematic, songwriting balance, and a decadent cadence of sounds that transfixes you, and 3 is mostly the latter. “Eyelar (shutters)” starts the wave of tracks with one that is sleek and melodic as it scales up, weaving a simple but effective EDM track. It grounds you before hitting harder with subsequent tracks containing co-production by varying electronic artists, like Four Tet, PARISI, and Benji Gibson, to name a few.
Acquiescing transitions between tracks, you’ll find yourself coasting without realizing it; after some run-throughs, you figure out what the album contains, a growth of sound with simple writing but shifty styles that consistently hit triumphantly. PARISI’s co-production on “Kammy (like i do)” brings that drum-n-bass prowess of PARISI with hypnotic grace, like what they did with the co-production on “Billie (Loving Arms)” off Actual Life 2. We hear it vigorously through different tracks weaving elements with Fred Again’s EDM-savy sonic layers, sometimes with the abstract, somewhat glitchy stylings of Four Tet or the atmospheric textures reminiscent of a non-pop-electronic track akin to co-producer Jamie xx on “Winnie (end of me).” PARISI helps bring these tracks to life, as they have been at an elevated scale since Actual Life 2. They add dimension to what would be otherwise more mundane and linear tracks.
“Delilah (pull me out of this),” “Bleu (better with time),” and “Danielle (smile on my face)” are some that beautifully worldbuild around a base sound, letting the electronic vibes get fierce as you find yourself in a groove that moves like a frenetic line on an EKG monitor. However, the one constant that keeps elevating the project is the drum and bass work from PARISI, where their style has more free range acquiescing with the darker tones of Actual Life 3. It may leave you disappointed because the production’s stylistic complexions evolve further, making them these fantastic pieces of music, and placing it on a higher plateau filled with consistent danceable bliss. Does that equate to the beats being perfect across the board? Not necessarily, since it can’t escape the simplicity within the production, like the monochromatic “Nathan (still breathing),” which feels like it is playing it too safe. But besides rare, minor drawbacks, what Actual Life 3 lacks, is depth to the poetic personality that never seems to get past the first layer.
The writing isn’t driven thematically, instead evoking moods through hollow relativity; however, a few moments shine through, like “Kammy (like i do)” and “Danielle (smile on my face),” which are contrasting companion pieces. They work fluidly as this beautiful contrasting duality that captures the depth and weight of our emotions. While “Kammy (like i do)” is more chaotic, like a fiery love that feels untamed, pushing you further from the outside world, while “Danielle (smile on my face)” brings you closer together. Similarly, the writing from other artists isn’t as complex and captivating. There is “Berwyn (all i got is you),” which continues to reflect redundant subtleties in the overarching theme of love and community, a constant on this ride, except through varying perspectives.
Unfortunately, the lack of depth doesn’t make you return as swiftly as one would Actual Life 2. It’s still a solid album with a lot to take from, but ultimately, one still feels like they don’t understand Fred Again’s artistry, as he seems distant when enveloping a vast sense of being instead of doing. Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9, 2022) still contains repeat value, as I find myself replaying frequently. I get enough from it that its issues don’t drown me out completely, but I wish it came out a tighter project altogether. Give it a spin and let me know how it faired with you.