Sunday, 15 July 2018

Nils Frahm ‎– All Melody (2018)

Style: Modern Classical, Abstract
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Erased Tapes Records

Tracklist:
01.   The Whole Universe Wants To Be Touched
02.   Sunson
03.   A Place
04.   My Friend The Forest
05.   Human Range
06.   Forever Changeless
07.   All Melody
08.   #2
09.   Momentum
10.   Fundamental Values
11.   Kaleidoscope
12.   Harm Hymn

Credits:
Alto Vocals [Shards] – Kate Huggett, Rose Martin (4), Sarah Latto
Bass Vocals [Shards] – Augustus Perkins Ray, Dan D'Souza, John Laichena
Cello – Anne Müller (tracks: 3 to 5, 10)
Choir – Shards (5) (tracks: 1, 3, 5, 9, 11)
Conductor [Shards], Arranged By [Shards, Co-Arranged By] – Kieran Brunt
Drums – Tatu Rönkkö (tracks: 2, 5)
Guitar [Processed Guitar], Sounds [Unheard Sounds] – Erik Skodvin
Instruments, Written-By, Producer, Piano [Pianos], Harmonium, Celesta, Percussion, Mellotron, Organ [Pipe Organ], Drum Machine, Effects, Recorded By, Mixed By, Synthesizer [Juno, SH2, Taurus, PS3100, 4Voice, Modular] – Nils Frahm
Marimba [Bass Marimba] – Sven Kacirek (tracks: 2, 4 to 8, 10)
Percussion – Tatu Rönkkö (tracks: 2, 3, 5)
Soprano Vocals [Shards] – Bethany Horak-Hallett, Héloïse Werner, Lucy Cronin
Technician [Piano Technician] – Carsten Schulz (2)
Tenor Vocals [Shards] – Kieran Brunt, Oliver Martin-Smith, Sam Oladeinde
Timpani, Gong [Gongs], Bass Drum, Percussion [Melodic Percussion] – Sytze Pruiksma (tracks: 5, 9)
Trumpet – Richard Koch (tracks: 5, 10)
Viola – Viktor Orri Árnason (tracks: 2, 3, 5)
Mastered By – Zino Mikorey

It’s hard for Nils Frahm to resist the pull of a good concept. For 2011’s Felt, the German pianist draped a heavy cloth over the strings of his instrument—a gesture of respect for his neighbors that yielded an alluringly tactile sound. The following year’s Screws, written and recorded with a broken thumb, comprised nine songs for nine fingers. And the year after that, to capture the grandeur of his live shows—neoclassical, post-techno, maximally minimalist affairs performed on multiple acoustic and electronic keyboard instruments, in the spread-eagled style of the progressive-rock keyboardists of yore—he collaged Spaces out of two years’ worth of thrumming, rippling concert recordings. But a recent collaboration with the German musician F.S. Blumm proved that he’s just as good, if not better, without a big conceptual framework to prop him up. Their album Tag Eins Tag Zwei is a wonderfully low-key set of improvisations. 
All Melody is Frahm’s first major work since 2015’s Solo, and it feels like his biggest statement yet. He has fleshed out his usual arsenal of keyboard instruments—piano, synthesizer, pipe organ, etc.—with strings, trumpet, tympani, gongs, even bass marimba. The whole thing was recorded in the Funkhaus, a 1950s-era recording complex in the former East Berlin where he spent two years painstakingly building his dream room, right down to a custom-built mixing desk. The album’s rich dynamics are a direct extension of that building’s pristine acoustics. He availed himself of the Funkhaus’ natural reverb chambers—concrete rooms into which sound is projected and re-recorded—and he fashioned his own jury-rigged version out of a dry well at a friend’s house on the Spanish island of Mallorca. There’s even a choir, London’s Shards, whose wordless voices open the album on “The Whole Universe Wants to Be Touched,” a bold scene-setter whose melody moves like wind through reeds. The title alone suggests that Frahm is swinging for the fences. 
But All Melody never feels imposing or overwrought. Despite its ambitious scope and somber mood, it is infused with the same exploratory spirit that made Tag Eins Tag Zwei such a delight. True, it’s not a wildly varied record: The tempos are generally slow, the moods contemplative, the melancholy almost all-pervasive. But within that framework, he explores as much ground as he can, from grand, sweeping choral passages reminiscent of Arvo Pärt to understated piano études. “Human Range,” where a silvery trumpet melody tangles with a mossy ambient backing, is reminiscent of Bill Laswell’s extended remix of the Miles Davis catalog; the more electronic, rhythmically oriented cuts, particularly the twin centerpieces “All Melody” and “#2,” find common cause with the British producer Floating Points’ way of balancing programmed and improvised music. 
If there’s a theme here, it’s that holistic idea hinted at in the title: the ur-sound, the pedal tone of spiritual unity. In the liner notes, Frahm rhapsodizes about the morphological orchestra of his dreams: “My pipe organ would turn into a drum machine, while my drum machine would sound like an orchestra of breathy flutes. I would turn my piano into my very voice, and any voice into a ringing string.” That sense of fluidity gives the record its shape-shifting identity. It’s often unclear what you’re listening to at any given moment; even songs that sound like solo piano turn out to have cello and bass marimba lurking somewhere within their folds. Turn it up loud enough, and you can get lost in details like the creaking of the hammers on Frahm’s piano, or the sound of birdsong, presumably recorded outside his riverside studio, along the banks of the Spree. 
The Funkhaus is a mazelike complex, and the way the record is structured often feels like a scale model of its sprawl. Across 12 songs and 74 minutes, All Melody functions as a single, cohesive piece of music, with recurring themes interwoven throughout. It’s easy to get lost in the album and then, hearing a familiar motif, come up short, as if turning a corner in a long hallway and wondering if you hadn’t passed the same spot just a moment ago. It’s a pleasantly disorienting sensation. And after traversing long, repetitive tracks like “Sunson,” “All Melody,” and “#2,” encountering a highlight like “Forever Changeless,” a short, melodic sketch for piano, feels like stumbling upon a hidden chamber illuminated by a stained-glass window. 
Yes, he can be tasteful to a fault, and some of his melodic instincts occasionally tip slightly too far toward drawing-room prettiness. But the gorgeous closing track, “Harm Hymn”—a kind of coda for the whole album, just a handful of chords played on a whisper-soft harmonium—shows that his strength as a musician isn’t in the complexity of his composition, but in the nuances he gets out of his instruments and onto the tape; it’s in the echo and in the air, and in the way that he plays the room itself. For once in his career, there is no grand concept—just the space of the Funkhaus itself, which proves to be more than enough.
Philip Sherburne / Pitchfork

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