If you were expecting yet another slew of festival-ready bangers — or drums for that matter — from electronic music messiah Fred again.. (or professionally shortened to “Fred”) think again.
Fred is now eponymously living up to his golden boy status with his warm and syrupy synth work. Following recent acclaimed collaborations with Four Tet and Skrillex, of which the supergroup headlined Weekend 2 of Coachella as the latest stage of their rapid world domination, South London’s Fred again.. has now teamed up with Brian Eno, one of, if not the most, legendary producers and composers in electronic music history. Together, they recently delivered the lushly minimal album “Secret Life.” Eno was one of ambient music’s earliest pioneers and even coined the genre’s name himself.
Taking this into consideration, Fred’s first full frontal foray into looped-out, formless sprawls of pads, synths, and samples sees him with no lack of support. Eno has been mentoring Fred since he was a teenager — yet this project marks their most direct, involved collaboration to date. Dreamlike and draped in masterfully drawn-out emotion, this record is pure audible nostalgia.
“Secret Life” is a singular, living, breathing thing. It is a winding, ethereal stream; the songs are simply landmarks on its shores. The majority of this album blends together, one long journey; or perhaps one moment stretched out into 44 minutes and 38 seconds.
This is an album to absolutely be listened to in order, all at once.
For the first time in Fred’s discography, the project begins directly with Fred singing; there are no samples. While, in typical fashion, there are plenty of voices and clips strewn across this record, many of which are nostalgic callbacks to earlier tracks or to Fred and Eno in the studio, the tone is certainly set with the opener “I Saw You.” This is Fred’s personal reflection Fred on his life, his new explosion of a career, and everything in between. There is no “Jungle” or “Turn on the lights again..” from 2022’s “USB” in this tracklist. This album is all feeling, all emotion.
“Enough” is a clear highlight — a distant, slow-motion march through ancient fields and valleys. The orchestral motif is regal and ethereal, and the sample from Winnie Raeder’s “Don’t You Dare” is so potent that it sounds synthesized solely for this Elysian instrumental. It’s hard to keep oneself from floating through the ceiling.
“Cmon” ebbs and flows over warm pads and between reverb, tremolo vocal samples. The lyrics themselves are perhaps some of the most general and vague lines Fred has written thus far. This might polarize some, but narratively, I think it works. I see this album as Fred zooming out and conceptualizing his typical themes of love, loss, and friendship in a more abstract sense. This track sees the lines “come on, come on, please make it count” repeated with varying levels of effects distorting the vocals beyond comprehension. Fred is not trying to be fancy or poetic — he is using simple lyrics to drive home a powerful message. What is lacking in the complexity of diction is more than made up for with tortuous vocal effects; using, as he does, intricate electronic tampering to convey emotion from a production-based standpoint — in the manner most natural for him. It is a similar concept to what he has done with his “Actual Life” trilogy, only now distilled, simplified, and texturized into abstract ambient droning.
“Secret Life” ends with the heart-wrenching “Come On Home.” Here, Fred’s vocals are the most raw and emotional in the whole project. The simple yet powerful lyrics complement the incredibly minimal instrumentals — essentially, the story of this project as a whole.
There is density in this album’s simplicity and complexity in its sparse soundscapes. What is not stated outright lies between the many layers of synths and samples. With this project, Fred again.. has transitioned away from typical dance music and has followed a more ambient path. Rhythms are not stated outright with the use of traditional percussion; rather, the ghostly propulsion of the songs on “Secret Life” is hidden beneath densely-layered drones and melodic instrumentation. If this record feels like a world-famous DJ in the height of success slowing down and opening up, taking a risk and creating the art that he wants to create, that his heart’s rhythm has knocked into the interface of his various synthetic instruments — it’s because that’s exactly what “Secret Life” is.