Nils Frahm

(Copyright © 2020 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of Use )
Streichelfisch (2005), 6/10
Electric Piano (2008), 5/10
Wintermusik (2009), 6/10
The Bells (2009), 5/10
Felt (2011), 5.5/10
Screws (2012), 5/10
Spaces (2013), 6/10
Solo (2015), 4/10
Nonkeen: The Gamble (2016), 4.5/10
All Melody (2018), 5/10
All Encores (2019), 6/10
Empty (2020), 5/10
Music for Animals (2022), 6/10

German pianist and composer Nils Frahm debuted with Streichelfisch (2005), an album of digital glitch noise and intricate beats that ranges from indulgent chaos to new-age meditative tranquillity, with the notable exceptions of the folkish Lieb Erlassen and the carillon-like No-w Here. These idyllic vignettes of glitchy ambient music are engaging precisely because they are naive.

He then recorded ten untiled solo piano sonatas on Electric Piano (2008) in a nostalgic, old-fashioned, autumnal, romantic style. Grand piano solos are also on Graz, recorded in 2009 but only released in 2021. The border between new-age music, jazz improvisation and classical music had been explored in the 1980s by the likes of Michael Jones, and here Frahm sounds like a minor follower of Michael Jones.

The EP Wintermusik (2009), besides the temptation to emulate Richard Clayderman's sentimental style in Ambre, collects two longer melodic fantasias for chamber ensemble (piano, xylophone, accordion and cello): the 17-minute melancholy melodic Tristana and the nine-minute jovial Nue. Frahm was now a diligent pupil of the new-age music of the 1980s.

The Bells (2009), produced by Peter Broderick, veered towards classical music with more austere compositions performed (loudly) on a grand piano. For the most part, the album sounds pretentious: an amateur pianist performing original compositions that imitate classical music. At least Wintermusik was a decent ambient album.

Felt (2011) mostly returned to the new-age music of Wintermusik (notably in Familiar), sometimes bordering on lounge muzak (Unter), but Frahm also discovered Steve Reich's minimalism and wed it to facile melodies in Keep and especially in the nine-minute Mike Oldfield-ian More. The best results are maybe the slow and bare melodies of Less and Pause, that sound suspended in time.

The EP Juno (2011) contains two pieces for solo synthesizer. Juno Reworked (2013) contains remixes.

Screws (2012) contains eight pieces for piano (played with nine fingers because one was injured), seven of which are titled after the seven notes of the Western scale. Do is the least trivial. Screws Reworked (2015) contains remixes.

The live album Spaces (2013) delivers a nine-minute version of Said and Done (it lasted only three minutes on The Bells), the eight-minute Says, which is even better in incorporating Reich's repetition technique into a melodic context, although the bombastic crescendo a` la Vangelis is typical of what does not work in Frahm's music, and the dramatic 17-minute electronic fantasia For - Peter - Toilet Brushes - More, virtually a tribute to Klaus Schulze's Irrlicht.

Solo (2015) is another solo piano album which alternates between pretentious, dull and bland.

Frahm also composed the soundtrack for Sebastian Schipper's film Victoria (2015).

Collaborations included: 7fingers (2010) with celloist Anne Mueller; Music for Lovers Music Versus Time (2010), Music for Wobbling Music Versus Gravity (2013) and Tag eins Tag zwei (2016) with F.S. Blumm (producer Frank Schueltge, the co-founder of Quasi Dub Development); and Collaborative Works (2015) and Trance Frendz (2016) with Icelandic multi-instrumentalist Olafur Arnalds.

Seeljocht (2011) was the debut album of a collective consisting of Greg Haines (piano), Sytze Pruiksma (percussion), Piiptsjilling (vocals), Romke Kleefstra (guitar), Rutger Zuydervelt (electronics), Peter Broderick (violin), Heather Broderick (harp) and Frahm.

Nonkeen, a trio with Sebastien Singwald and Frederic Gmeiner, is documented on The Gamble (2016), an album of jazzy ambient techno recorded over an eight-year period. Oddments of the Gamble (2016) collects the leftovers. He collaborated with DJ Shadow on Bergschrund (2016).

The sprawling All Melody (2018) opted instead for lush arrangements with choir, strings, horns and pipe organ joining the piano. The result is undewhelming: the nine-minute Sunson mixes a swampy rhythm and an angelic female melody (five minutes too long); the eight-minute Kaleidoscope instead contrasts the angelic Enya-esque vocals with a hysterical polyrhythm; the nine-minute All Melody is simply old-fashioned electronic new-age music for bubbling sequencers (four minutes too long); and the ten-minute #2 (the standout) is atmospheric minimal techno with a looped Terry Riley-ian organ melody rising over the beat (unfortunately turning into a Vangelis-style apotheosis).

The EPs Encores 1 (2018), notably the eleven-minute Harmonium in the Well for reed organ performed in a stone well, Encores 2 (2019), notably Spells, and Encores 3 (2019), notably the 14-minute ambient piece Amirador, were collected on All Encores (2019).

The 27-minute mini-album Empty (2020) incorporated field recordings of natural sounds, notably in A Shine.

Tripping with Nils Frahm (2020) collects live recordings. The double-disc Old Friends New Friends (2021) collects solo piano compositions recorded between 2009 and 2021. 2X1=4 (2021) was another collaboration with Blumm.

Frahm's career basically recycled classical music, minimalism, new-age music and cosmic music for young people who never heard them but too often he offered a low-quality version of each of these genres and get some credit for the "novelty" (which in fact older than you).

He diplayed more ambition on the three-hour Music for Animals (2022), that contains lengthy synth-based instrumentals such as The Dog With 1000 Faces (26:21), Sheep In Black And White (24:47), Stepping Stone (18:15), Briefly (27:02), Lemon Day (18:32), Do Dream (22:36). They are generally more kinetic than his tradermark piano ambient music; and they are way longer, which is a mixed blessing.

(Copyright © 2020 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )