Album review: Nils Frahm – All Melody

Nils Frahm has been composing and recording for many years, but it was not until 2013 that his album Spaces really broke his career. Since this melodic piano-meets-synthesizer release, he has created a solo piano album, worked with a band, written film scores and more. How will this, and his busy touring schedule, impact his 2018 project All Melody?

Back in 2013, Frahm began toying with more synthetic, digital instruments and effects. What followed was a few years of focusing mainly on live instruments, but judging by the arrangements on All Melody, that may all be changing. The new addition of vocals, organs, brass, timpani, gongs, marimba and more, has elevated his sounds even higher. The Berlin-based mastermind recorded the majority of his latest album in his own studio at Funkhaus, a refurbished, East German 20th century palace. Equipped with a custom built mixing desk, and totally unique acoustics, the tape recordings are full of character. Frahm is continually thinking outside the box, especially when it comes to recording techniques. On All Melody he has even gone as far as Mallorca, to record the reverberations of a dry well.

The album is another prime example of Frahm’s best traits as a musician, showcasing his perfectionist mindset, and uncompromising precision. The album’s stunning room reverberations have had an overwhelming impact on the quality of each recording, generating a softness, and spaciousness which undoubtedly rivals his earlier work. All Melody moves with a natural fluidity, touching upon genres such as techno, ambient, jazz and classical; but the resulting product will most likely fall under the post-classical bracket. Avoiding tradition is unlikely to be an accident here; instead it appears to be a bold statement.

Photo: Alexander Schneider

The album opens with nothing more than background hiss/fuzz, with what could be footsteps, or possibly the sounds of somebody setting up the studio microphones. After this abstract intro, “The Whole Universe Wants To Be Touched” develops into an ethereal, choral piece. It sounds as if it could have been written hundreds of years ago, and would be perfect as film score; his time spent writing to moving pictures appears to have only exaggerated his cinematic style. Each track/piece/composition rolls smoothly onto the next, something that you would expect from a classical album, or even a techno DJ mix.

The following piece “Sunson” spans over 9 minutes and 10 seconds, progressing through a plethora of live and digital instruments. Surprisingly there is also a minimal, percussive beat that appears for only the middle section. “Sunson” is easily one of the most confident tracks on the album, with every minute being pristinely decorated. It sets the president for what follows, an extremely detailed yet restrained collection of compositions.

“My Friend The Forest” and “Forever Changeless” also stand out, utilising more colourful, almost jazzy piano. Here you can spot more than just piano though, as scrapes and bumps underly the breathtaking emptiness. “Human Range” is also full of texture, from human voices, hand percussion, strings and brass. The album’s dub-techno inspired title track is one of the most electronic arrangements on the album, marrying arpeggiated synthesisers with organs and drones. This style is carried across to the following track, but from here on the energy is lowered again. These exquisitely honest pieces leave Frahm nowhere to hide, but such an accomplished composer is still able to make your hairs stand up with just one or two sounds.

All Melody may not be every music fan’s cup of tea, but those who appreciate minimal complexity will no doubt be transfixed when hearing it for the first time. Full of colour and nuance, he seems to be able to speak to his audience’s souls, even more so than in the past. It will likely age well, as each listen will uncover another hidden gem of birdsong or rattling piano parts. Fans of classical music will likely find some common ground with Frahm here, but it is easily one of his most experimental, forward thinking releases to date. At over an hour in length, with some particularly long track times, there are of course moments where it begins to drag. However, this is all forgiven when he hits his stride.

Why not come and hear the complexity of this release in your local Richer Sounds today, with some of our premium over-ear headphones?