In the six years since its previous album Happiness, Fridge has seen the products of its individual members blossom as it sat, waiting, in the background. Kieran Hebden suddenly became known as the mastermind behind the excellent Four Tet, Adem Ilhan went and played folk music while dropping his last name, and Sam Jeffers, well, he put the “musician” thing aside for a while while he did some web design and studied at Harvard and the London School of Economics. Obviously, they’ve been busy. As such, it’s rather wonderful to see that the chemistry that they’ve always maintained as a collective seems all but untouched by that multitude of time away from each other. If anything, it seems that these three musicians have managed to take the lessons of their individual lives and apply them to the band that thrust all of them into the (admittedly dim) limelight of the independent instrumental electronic scene.
The album is called The Sun, and while Hebden tends to get top billing in the promotional material, I have to think that Adem is the one who makes The Sun one of the more uniquely listenable albums in some time. Adem’s love and skill at folk music actually comes out and is allowed to shine on The Sun. While it may or may not be true that Hebden still handles most of the guitars for Fridge, there’s a strong undercurrent of future-folky songwriting showing up all over the record, even more so on the still quite listener-friendly Happiness; given the events of that interim six years between albums, it’s hard not to give credit for that undercurrent to Adem. While a song like “Clocks” can begin and end with found-sound noise and sparse melodies, it’s telling that the most memorable moments are the ones where guitars twist and turn around each other, finding harmonies that climb slowly, gently, into a major-chord “climax” that’s more of a relaxing release of expertly built tension than emotional catharsis. It’s a beautiful moment, the type of which defines the record as it progresses.
It should be no surprise after that moment that even the very next track, “Our Place in This”, would be an acoustic guitar slow burn with the slightest hint of glitch and background noise—reflective and melodically quite lovely, it’s a perfect indication of the variety that Fridge can bring on its best days. The all-too-short “Eyelids” continues the theme of variety, rocking out in all the right ways, and “Comets” cements it, with a track that bases itself on skittery electronic beats and synths, only to eventually find itself dominated by block chords pounded out on a piano.
If it all sounds a little random, that’s probably intentional. One gets the impression from the singular vision of each of the tracks that these are musicians who actually want to be around each other, the types of guys who’ll hit the pub on Friday night, go on a two-night bender during which a ludicrous musical idea materializes, only to sound like genius on Monday morning. In reality, I have no idea what their creative process actually is, but the equal willingness to go out on tangents and ride grooves for what seems like hours can only be achieved when the musicians involved know and trust each others’ judgement both musically and personally.
The closing tracks, then, actually manage to speak to Hebden, Ilhan, and Jeffers’ time apart from one another. Titled “Lost Time” and “Years and Years and Years ...”, these songs, without words, speak to the distances that can unintentionally grow when time, and life, and work get in the way. “Lost Time” finds what sounds like all three members doing vocals, moaning melodies all around each other, harmlessly passing each other in context with the pleasant guitar-bass-drums backdrop, but never really acknowledging one another, never creating their vocal melodies with much regard for what the others are doing. It’s a perfect metaphor for the time apart, an intentional indicator of unfulfilled potential and lost opportunities, a wonderful way to say without words what we’ve all been thinking for the last year or two whenever Fridge came to mind. That “Years and Years and Years ...” is a mere tribute to melancholy with slowly strummed chords and perfectly placed bells makes it the perfect epilogue to the reflection/apology that is “Lost Time”.
The good news would be that the apparent regret expressed by those final two tracks should indicate that these three won’t let such a magnitude of time pass before their next release together. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that that is indeed the case.