The Listener

Nils Frahm is clever with textures – but it’s the melodies which drag you in

10 March 2018

9:00 AM

10 March 2018

9:00 AM

Grade: A

Here we are in that twilit zone where post-techno and post-ambient meets modern classical, a terrain that has its fair share of tuneless charlatans and chancers. Frahm is not one of those.

There are of course the repetitive synthesiser arpeggios familiar to anyone who has had the misfortune to sit in some achingly hip Dalston café: slightly too many for my liking on ‘#2’, which Frahm may consider the centrepiece of this album. But the German is obsessively attuned to nuance. Beneath those Glass-like riffs there is plenty going on: descant melodies, counterpoints burbling up out of the ether. He stretches himself, too, using wordless vocals on ‘The Whole Universe Wants To Be Touched’ (yes, the titles are almost all unforgivable) and elsewhere trumpets and marimba.

Fortunately for the listener, though, he is still in thrall to the acoustic piano, the instrument that brought him to prominence. On his recent UK gigs he performed one piece, from the 2011 album Felt, by hitting the piano strings with toilet brushes, a rather arch nod to Henry Cowell. Here, instead, he plays the piano by pushing down the keys with his fingers, as you’re meant to, on the beautiful ‘My Friend The Forest’ and ‘Forever Changeless’. These impressionistic little tunes manage to be sparse and romantic, the kind of thing Erik Satie might have come up with if he was idly tinkling at the piano while waiting for his Morrison’s Signature Range cauliflower cheese to microwave. That’s just fine by me.

Yes, Frahm is clever with textures. But as the title implies, it’s the melodies which drag you in.

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