Many people only know of Thomas Fehlmann due to his involvement with the Ambient collective The Orb where he appears as a regular satellite member from 1990 onwards. But his solo work is also more than promising and can be divided into three phases, ranging from his affiliation with early 90's pre-Eurodance projects like Marathon and his own single-time fabrication Readymade as a starting point, over the second phase that is covered by Good Fridge and the half remix, half new material kin One To Three, to the final phase that was refined with his album Visions Of Blah in 2002 and all successive releases. To make myself clear: Good Fridge. Flowing Ninezeronineeight which the complete title of the album is not only the best work by Thomas Fehlmann, but one of my top 10 albums of all time, regardless of the artist, the release date or the genre. A whopping 20 songs (21 on the Japanese version which I'm reviewing) are presented, spanning the years 1990–1998, the vast majority of them unreleased. However, this is no retrospective, for this is in fact the very first Thomas Fehlmann album he has released under his own name! It is not clear which songs were produced in which year, but they have all been reworked and polished, creating a tremendously coherent flow (a term Fehlmann uses time and again to this day) while offering a huge variety of different styles.
What is so special about Good Fridge? It is, for one, the balance between collaborations, styles and entertainment. Fehlmann teams up with The Orb's Dr Alex Paterson, the Berlin-based duo Sun Electric and with Moritz von Oswald, also known at the time for his Detroit House moniker Maurizio. The styles oscillate vibrantly between Ambient pieces, downbeat songs and occasional ventures into Jungle territory. Believe it or not, but the music has a certain Japanese flavor that is implied in its hectic vividness and gorgeous, awe-inspiring melodies which lead me to the last important column: entertainment. Good Fridge is jam-packed with vocal samples, voice snippets and theme fragments – surely inspired due to the artist's work with The Orb –, making this a very rich and potentially dangerous album, for this kind of creativity is considered as theft of intellectual property by some geezers. Most of the samples plus the metallic green front artwork curiously involve Spanish or Mexican ephemera, but the music doesn't rely on Latin clichés or mannerisms. The sad fact is that Fehlmann never picked up the threads of Good Fridge and the related bonus follow-up One To Three. Nowadays, he remains a prolific performer in the world of electronic music, but his music lacks any interwoven sample snippet which enhances Good Fridge so much and makes it a towering work of art. But enough of the nostalgia, here is the actual analysis of most tracks off the Japanese version which adds a long bonus track at the end.
As if to underline the clichés of his Swiss roots, Fehlmann starts the opener Superfrühstück (super breakfast) with clinging cowbells, followed by an easy-going beat, bursts of synth pads that are typically found in his songs, as well as complemental pulses that are deeper and fuzzier. A five-note melody carries the song while various bells, bleeps and fragments swirl in the background. It's hard to pinpoint the mood which is definitely not too upbeat, but more akin to the typical morning melancholia many people encounter. It's a good start, but rather bland in comparison to the following string of tracks, all of them being gargantuan. Hermosa, previously released as Hermosa Beach on compilations, is an unbelievable cocktail of catchy melodies, whirling backing strings that are almost better than the jumpy main melody on the synth pads, and punchy breakbeats, with short ventures into silky Jungle fields. Additional gleaming flitterings, bouncy noises and wind chimes round off Hermosa whose synths are very lush and Ambient in style. Together with the hectic tidbits in the foreground, this and various other tunes remind of menu music in Japanese video games, and this is not meant as an insult, but as a seal of quality. After the song ends with high-pitched gibberish and a meandering percussion, Zauberwort (magic word) enters with its tremendously soothing synth washes, a quirky melody played in higher regions and a strong Jungle rhythm that is bolstered by deep bass lines. The mood is perfectly jolly and happy, and the deepness and coziness of the synths is unreached to my mind, allowing the listener to concentrate either on the dreamy or the hectic side of the song. It is the last 25 seconds, however, where the dreaminess is turned up a notch as the synths start to oscillate, pulsate and warp in the most phantasmagoric manner. A terrific song.
Banda (i.a.o.o.l.) is an interlude below the two-minute mark with a train-like choo-choo rhythm and mysterious but bright beams that lead directly to the resplendent Baratti, a superb synergy of haunting synths and tense Jungle beats with a six-note melody on an Italo organ. The backing synths are so thick and mellow that the potential thinness of the organ, let alone the cliché it implies, is of no importance, especially when considering the final phase of the song with its powerful glacial cymbals and the ethereal superstructure of the Ambient synths. One of the best tracks ever composed by Fehlmann. After the short interlude Unisize that merges mean laughter with opera divas and distinct hi hats which are re-used on Fehlmann's remix of Juan Atkin's Never Tempt Me on One To Three, one of the various reasons why I incessantly link both albums – Good Fridge and One To Three – to each other. Next is 6ix Days, collaboration with Alex Paterson who provided the sample of the screaming colonel which itself is intertwined with a strange news report in an even stranger dialect or language, possibly Romantsch? The backing synths are terrifically warm and rapturous, the percussion is silky and the Acid-like synth pads very gentle. Launching rockets and various incomprehensible chit chat are the remaining ingredients of a lively yet warming track that leads to Kirsche (cherry), a further interlude with majestic strings, spectral flitterings, floating textures and a wonky Italo piano.
While Wee Wee Mademoiselle was released as the one and only single off Good Fridge – a curious choice to my mind – that relies more on multilayered synth pads and swirling melodies than the backing ambience found in every other track so far, Globus (globe) is a jocular breakbeat ditty with synth choir accompaniments and beautifully glitzy scintillas that ends with an arguing Spanish couple. Sangita Rana is all about glacial percussion with fragments of icy synth strings, and the awe-inspiring solemn exhilarance of Cuddle with its catchy pulsating synth backings and the similarly effervescent strings is so bright and positive that no one can resist a smile or two while listening to it. The following Teufel (devil) is another collaboration with Alex Paterson and has been featured on Orbsessions Volume II under the title Angel 4 Matrix. It is the first of three true Ambient tracks off Good Fridge with soothing swirls, ethereal spheres, short splutters, coughing witches or ravens and a rather distateful surprise at the end. While Face The Day is the only song with a straight 4/4 beat, quirky 8-bit swirls and possibly the most glaring riff that consists of cascading six notes backed by vivid bells and whistles, Kufi & Nashi is one of those interludes which Fehlmann will never come back to again, as it is loaded with copyrighted themes fading in and out, among them the Theme From A-Team, Jingle Bells and New Age extravaganza.
Snake Salvador is worth mentioning as well, as it is a collaboration with Sun Electric. Warm, soothing melodies are coupled with wonky percussion and incisive, almost glacial loops, while Fehlmann's solo effort called Dingo is a downbeat song that has a particularly eclectic melody which harks back to the rave days, but isn't as punchy or bold because of its inheritance of the reduced scheme found in old Detroit songs. The normal edition closes with a collaboration between Fehlmann and Moritz von Oswald called Schizophrenia which incidentally is also the title of the song. It is based on cherubic strings, quick swirls and additional synth pads that lead to the climax of the song, and even though this is a beatless Ambient piece, the synth pads could be interpreted as fragmented remainders of Trance songs by the numbers and thus carry a liveliness that makes this song more convoluted than it actually is. A great closing track. The aptly titled Optional on the Japanese version is an afterhought of almost seven minutes and is perfectly embedded in the endemic mood. It starts with a field recording of distant waves, people who pass by and a vestigial horn-like melody that is backed by dark synth pads and further intertwined with answering messages. The song is too long and rather minimal, as nothing seems to change. However, another long field recording with chirping birds is provided at the end. Since this is a bonus track to one of the greatest electronic albums of all time, I won't complain.
Good Fridge is … everything! It contains all my hopes, stylistic preferences and dreams and throws them back at me in 21 songs. The creativity, runtime and wide variety of it is a good indicator for Fehlmann's skills. Other musicians would have created five albums out of this green-lit wonderland. Fehlmann came up with two if you consider One To Three that combines new material as well as Fehlmann's own remixes and those of other artists. Each and every track pushes the melodies into the limelight, and while they are the most important part, the eclectic percussion and the esoteric samples aren't any less mandatory in terms of the buildup of Good Fridge. From the dewy morning meadows of Superfrühstück over the intense coupling of synth washes with quirky rave riffs in Baratti to the pleasantly pulsating anticipation in the bubbling Cuddle with short stops at the various interludes – each and everyone of them terrifically melodious and way too short –, Fehlmann has mighty fine groceries in his fridge, and while a lot of this material was already eight years old when the album was released in 1998, it isn't spoiled in the slightest way. After a limewashing procedure by Fehlmann, the output glitters and gleams. There is no other album that can surpass the sheer fun, adventurous melodies, obscure samples and lavish use of gazillion synth layers while at the same time maintaining a coherent style. Thomas Fehlmann solved this oxymoronic riddle with Good Fridge that is fresh as a daisy – eternally. It has luckily been re-issued by the recently resurrected R&S Records in digital form, so grab this green emerald – and enhance it with the ruby red expansion pack called One To Three. So utterly recommended, you won't believe it!
Ambient Review 063: Thomas Fehlmann – Good Fridge (1998). Originally published on Apr. 25, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.