I initially discovered Nils Frahm’s music through other artists on the Erased Tapes label. During my early twenties I went through a phase, one that certainly hasn’t ended, of modern classical music. My iTunes was full of Ólafur Arnalds, Peter Broderick, and Max Richter. The former two are big names found on Erased Tapes Records (Arnalds recently composed the fantastic score for Broadchurch ) and both have an organic edge to their compositions. They were my gateway to the more experimental and digital artists of the label, and Nils Frahm is certainly more digital. Even his most distilled compositions, the delicately frantic solo piano arrangements from The Bells say, have an inorganic feel to them. At his live performances, you can see him slide across the stage on his studio chair, wheeling between synthesizers, drum machines, and a piano. And then you have tracks such as An Aborted Beginning that he describes as “His first, shy attempt at dub music,” which sounds industrial and accidental. Oftentimes I get the feeling that the reverb or the shuffles you can hear behind his melody are paramount to the actual instrument.
Aside his solo work, he continues to team up with other artists. There are the frequent collaborations with Ó lafur Arnalds, which marries well the plinkering of Arnalds and the sound-shuffle of Frahm (I highly recommend Trance Frendz ). There is the collaboration with Woodkid (whose follow up to The Golden Age I’m sure many eagerly await) whereby they score a short film starring Robert De Niro. However, my favourite product of Frahm’s collaborations is the track he made with DJ Shadow, Bergschrund that appeared on This Mountain Will Fall. I think it’s one of the finest featurings of recent years and I’d love to hear more of Shadow’s future-hop sound with modern classical mixes.
Frahm’s upcoming album, All Melody (26th January ) , is the product of his new personal studio, which he has been building for the past few years. It’s also a great predecessor to his upcoming world tour, the first since 2015. All Melody is released on CD and vinyl, however, there is a LPx3 pressing limited to 2,000 copies from Rough Trade, who recently opened a new store in Bristol. It will feature an extra five tracks, or Encores , as well as a CD and photography booklet. This is the second time that I have seen a limited pressing of Nils Frahm’s work, the other being a version of Spaces created by the online American group, Vinyl Me, Please, which I adore even if only for the included artwork and cocktail recipe.
The Spaces album itself is an unusual collection and it’s a fine example of the range Frahm employs as a musician but, more importantly represents his consideration of environment. There’s a great track that inspired the Spaces project, Improvisation For Coughs And A Cell Phone , which represents what Frahm describes as music that doesn’t “work in a studio recording situation”. The circumstance of his music is what I have most come to adore. It might be hindsight (or rose-tinted glasses), but I think the knowledge that he has recorded an album in a German church (The Bells) or compensates for an injured finger (Screws ) enhances the experience of his improvisations and performances.
As one of the many fans of the Late Night Tales series, I was so excited to see Nils Frahm release his own. LNT is a series of artist curated records whereby the artists create their own favourite twilight mixes. They’re all such fantastic quality (do go and check out Röyksopp’s!) and offer insight into the artist’s work and inspirations. Frahm released his in 2015 and it has some of the most obscure and gorgeous songs of the series. An added bonus is hearing Frahm’s selected spoken reading, a tradition of each LNT release, as it’s performed by Cillian Murphy. Frahm has a couple of personal tracks on the record but also takes liberty in editing a few other tracks, notably the heartwarming and Fallout- esque Gene Autry track, You’re the Only Track in My Blue Heaven.
If you’re at all interested in Frahm’s work, be it with some or no prior impression, then I’d foremost and personally urge you to hear his soundtrack for the film Victoria. It’s totally aching and, oftentimes, unsettling. Although it feels overall subdued on a first listen, when later revisited with familiarity of his other works and contexts, I think it’s clearly a standout release that does well to embody so much of his own creative preferences ( Our Own Roof is, perhaps, my favourite of all his work). Above any recommendation, however, I’m sure all his fans would urge you to see him perform live. To see him boxed in between pianos and synths frantically beating and flying around is remarkable. He will next be visiting Bristol on 25th February as part of his world tour. Tickets are sold out.
Words: Leon Frey