Early Output 1996-1998

Rating: 3.5

Label: Temporary Residence Ltd.

buy it at insound!

Out with the new and in with the old; Kieran Hebden, Adem Ilhan, and Sam Jeffers always had a slightly backwards approach to their career. Fridge’s latest offering is a handpicked selection of favorite early pieces and singles from their years on Output’s label. Not so much a handful as a generous 21-track heaping spanning 80 minutes and countless rock and electronica styles, the record is a solid introduction to a band that never found a major worldwide audience outside of Britain. Perhaps that’s about to change.

Output plays just like what it is: a song compilation. Even with a rather arbitrary, genre-skipping song order, there’s a definitive rhythm to the album. Repetitive setup-and-teardown song structures are partly to credit. Also to credit is the music’s innate flow. Fridge has always bred chillout music for a lazy afternoon at home. The trio’s electro-acid vibe is uniquely complemented by their lo-fi production approach. Fridge’s knack for amateur sampler and keyboard experimentation is what makes their music so charismatic. Especially when they first began recording onto eight-tracks, Hebden and crew had limited production knowledge and resources to draw from, but they still pulled off an innovative vision despite their technological inexperience. Output is aurally comparable to a great student film utilizing the few tools at its disposal to creative advantage.

Perhaps the only qualm with Fridge’s songwriting approach is its overt redundancy. This isn’t a turn-off with shorter songs, but the 15-minute “Anglepoised” is likely to be a test with most listeners’ patience. The never-ending bass and drum loops exhaust themselves after five minutes while the band zealously tampers with a myriad of electronic samples, which are brazenly minimal. The band’s Achilles’ heel isn’t their sampling – it’s the unbalanced attention they dedicate to honing these sounds instead of their foundation. Not to say the band doesn’t write compelling music, but an emphasis on production value leaves plenty of unused space that could potentially be filled with improvisation, vocals, or even more sampling experiments. Fridge opts not to take advantage of this.

What they do take advantage of though, works out for the best. Fridge’s chord arrangements, though simple and often repetitive, are rife with affable melodies. Jeffers’ drums cook up a multitude of tasty, invigorated beats, while the claustrophobic production value initiates a cozy and stress-free atmosphere for the listener. Most of all, their sound represents an elusively pleasant hybrid of rock and electronica. Their garage rock energy and downtempo bliss keep each other pretension-free and in perfect harmony. Output is an homage by the band, for the band. They did a fine job presenting their career in a nutshell; even if some tracks may seem slightly superfluous (note the series of 30-40 second ditties toward the end), they are all monuments to the band’s left-brained mark on music.

by Jory Spadea

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