In essence All That Must Be is about acceptance. Acceptance that life can be confusing and unpredictable. That the tangible and familiar can quickly be disrupted by seismic life changes. For London born electronic artist, George FitzGerald, upheaval came in the form of the decision to leave Berlin, the city he had called home for a decade, to return to England and take on the challenges of fatherhood. Events that have left an indelible print on this emotional affecting and musically nuanced album that comfortably stands as one of the best electronic albums of the year so far.
After establishing himself with a series of well-received EPs, singles and remixes, Fitzgerald released his debut album Fading Love in 2015. On it, FitzGerald channeled the pain and upset of a collapsing relationship into a heartbreakingly personal set of songs. Blending an intricate mix of dubstep, techno, and grime, and using only analogue equipment, he managed to infuse the songs with humanity and purpose.
All That Must Be retains that organic and human feeling but with greater cohesion and with songs that are shot through with more realized pop melodies. It’s an album that strikes the perfect balance between poignancy and late night danceable tunes to get the blood pumping.
Slowly unfurling opener “Two Moons Under” starts with panoramic synths that steadily inflate before bursting, as FitzGerald fashions a punchy, dancefloor-ready rhythm from layers of sliced and diced looped vocals. “Frieda” infuses techno with subtle atmospheric dubstep, opening with a looping, lilting synth riff that is quickly joined by propulsive snares and flurries of a hi-hat. FitzGerald cleverly utilizes shadowy, whispered vocal loops like a pop hook – a reminder that the human aspect is never far away.
That is particularly evident on “Burns” where FitzGerald assembles ripples of airy vocal tracks that take on a meditative, almost spiritual air, before a heavily distorted lead line intones the phrase “Know who are you are / Know who you were” as bright synths rage behind it. The beauty lies in it’s simple yet affecting message that to have any idea of who you are, you need to understand where you’ve been and what you’ve done.
The achingly soulful “Roll Back” is the perfect sad song about trying to find refuge in the past in the face of destabilizing life events but with an incessant hook that gives it genuine crossover potential. Fellow British producer and singer Lil Silva adds a real sense of longing to the spacious and understated backing as he repeats a four-line vocal line like a mantra. Together the pair create something almost transcendentally brilliant as they paint sadness with the subtlest of strokes.
On “Siren Calls”, FitzGerald finds the perfect balance between urgency and tension as he sets off a blizzard of chiming notes and burbling synths that build then drop to make way for big beats and squelchy house keyboards. It embodies the overriding theme of the album of the constant draw of the past and the warming embrace of familiarity. Even in these more frenetic moments, FitzGerald can utilize disembodied samples of dialogue and swirling sound to give it real heart.
The glitchy, post-dubstep pop of “Nobody But You” sees FitzGerald joined by Oxford-born Hudson Scott who adds touching sincerity to the track as Fitzgerald cushions the emotional impact with a warm bed of sound. On “Outgrown” fellow UK electronic maverick, Bonobo adds the blissful adhesive to FitzGerald’s already yearning beats. Together they build a wondrous sonic collage out of chirping synths, techno drum beats and light piano flashes that glow bright then disappear like distress flares. It highlights their collective abilities to stretch and blend intricate melodies that toy with the emotions before becoming something rapturously otherworldly.
“Half-Light” features the melancholy vocals of former Everything But the Girl singer Tracey Thorn backed by full ambient chords. The perfectly judged, minimal backing frames her vocals allowing each syllable to hang in the air before gracefully drifting away. The more uptempo “The Echo Forgets” opens with widescreen chords before a flurry of tumbling notes keenly raise the pace. It’s a song emblematic of an artist who spent his working life understanding club culture. Closer, “Passing Trains”, seems to be placing a full stop at that part of his old life. Featuring a shuffling beat and piano chords, its optimistic tone suggests new beginnings.
All That Must Be is that rare electronic album that matches musical accomplishment with an emotional pull. There are real depth and soul to the record with the head and heart working in perfect harmony. Musically assured, it sees FitzGerald draw on his various influences to create something reflective, distinctive and downright stunning.