Erased Tapes’ darling Nils Frahm is a leading light of the booming neo-classical movement. Having built a steady following over a decade, his 2018 album All Melody was met with a surge of unprecedented acclaim, and as such he’s been touring it non-stop for a year. Having played Manchester’s Albert Hall back in February, he’s now circling back to our drizzly city shortly before his world tour comes to a close. If Frahm’s second performance is anything like his first, then we’re in for something very special indeed.
Nils Frahm set out his stall with 2009’s Wintermusic and The Bells. These records were filled with devastating piano tracks, written and played with sensitivity and restraint. It was Frahm’s 2011 album Felt, though, in which his signature sound blossomed. An ASMR delight, the piano recordings on this record are incredibly detailed, with Frahm holding the instrument’s tiny mechanical movements in equal importance to the compositions. The felt-covered hammers thrumming the strings, the dampeners lifting, the aching pedal, the creaking stool, even Frahm’s breath – all of this imbues Felt’s wistful tracks with extra magic.
Felt was followed by Frahm’s Juno EP which saw him widen his sonic scope and explore the Juno synthesiser. Next came 2012’s Screws, a record of charmingly simple piano tracks recorded whilst recovering from a broken thumb. Then it was 2013’s live album Spaces. Testament to the unique beauty of his live shows, this quickly became a fan favourite. In a prolific period, Frahm then released the aptly-named Solo, a number of collaborative records with the likes of Ólafur Arnalds and F.S Blumm, and an award winning movie score. He also launched Piano Day, an official global body to celebrate the piano via various innovative, piano-related projects around the world – the first being the construction of the tallest ever piano.
Then, everything went silent. Something was cooking.
For two years, Frahm worked away in the depths of the historical 1950’s East German Funkhaus, building the studio of his dreams. From the cabling to the woodwork, the pipe organ to the custom mixing desk, Frahm had his hand in everything, personalising the space to the finest detail so as to best realise the music inside his head. The result was All Melody. His grandest musical statement yet, the album sees Frahm expand his usual arsenal of keyboard instruments to include strings, trumpet, timpani, gongs, bass marimba and a choir. Despite the ambition of the record though, All Melody is executed with masterful control.
The overall tone of the record is melancholy and contemplative, with 12 neoclassical-meets-ambient-techno tracks that morph into a single, cohesive whole – flaunting the singular power of the album as a format. Characterised by warm and detailed textures, a handful of melodies are interwoven through the record, hopping instruments or adopting different emphases each time they appear. The result is both enchanting and disorientating. The second track ‘Sunson’ hits with particular profundity, morphing from a breathy organ sketch to a techno-leaning synth track – a clever microcosm of the sonic development that the album represents for Frahm.
The title track, which falls mid-way through All Melody, takes the techno side of the record to its outer reaches. Its hypnotic blend of programmed and improvised electronic music calls to mind the softer side of Floating Points’ Elaenia. Elsewhere, we find tracks reminiscent of Frahm’s solo piano output. ‘My Friend the Forest’ and ‘Forever Changeless’ feel like uncovered secrets in amongst All Melody’s intricate soundworld. Perhaps the most stunning track on the record, though, is ‘Human Range’. Opening with a glacial synth pad, a vocal-inflected trumpet sighs into oblivion, before a choir and string section root the track to their gorgeous harmonies and whimsical melodies.
Not to give anything away about how all of this is delivered live, Frahm’s performance of All Melody at Manchester’s Albert Hall earlier this year was phenomenal – surely one of the venue’s finest gigs of 2018. With a rare second chance to catch the show, it’s currently sitting at the top of our musical to-do list for 2019, and should probably be at the top of yours, too.