In the spirit of Movember or Vegauary, I may as well call this month Frahmuary (ouch!).
Back some time in 2017, I’d bought a couple of tickets for Nils Frahm’s four night residency at London’s Barbican Centre. I’d actually already bought a copy of “All Melody” on CD on the day it was released. It is a long 70 minutes long flowing work and I felt that it was probably best enjoyed without needing to flip two slabs of vinyl twice over. A week later, the postman arrives and I get a copy of the vinyl version. I considered getting the record swapped but the clincher, apart from the physical beauty of the sleeve design, was a bonus LP of Rough Trade exclusive material.
I’m glad I didn’t decide to swap as the glorious packaging of “All Melody” is part of its pleasure.
Frahm has a habit of making themed LPs, which I must admit I find compellingly attractive. “Felt” from 2011 was inspired by his use of the material of the same name to dampen his piano strings. The following year’s “Screws” followed Frahm’s loss of the use of a thumb following an accident involving a bunk bed. You get the idea – it leads to a consistent strand that runs through the music.
“All Melody” feels like a both a departure from and a culmination of the various ideas that he’s explored before. The physicality of sound and the impact of the ambient surroundings in which the recording takes place all find their way as sonic influences. The result is a record that hangs together incredibly well, with the 70-plus minutes being consistently enjoyable.
The record comes on the back of Frahm’s label, Erased Tapes, tenth birthday celebrations which in the UK centred around a weekend residency at the Royal Festival Hall in London, which I wrote about here. This is the most significant release since the anniversary and it shows that Erased Tapes are set fair for their second decade and are expanding their vision. It does feel like a classic album, the kind of record that careers are founded on. Whilst the likes of “Felt” and “Screws” are wonderful music, they have a consistent stylistic feel to them, be them gentle piano music, gently pulsing techno or soft ambient keyboard sounds. “All Melody” combines all these together and significantly adds the human voice, albeit as a wordless instrument, using it in a similar vein to a string or brass instrument as an additional colour to the Frahm’s palette.
The opening “The Whole Universe Wants To Be Touched” introduces the Shards choir, based in the Barbican Centre, who return to add their vocals intermittently through the record. This leads into “Sunson” which has a percussive backbeat and moves the album on at pace.The record never flags over its 73 minutes, The interspersing of the contemplative quieter pieces with the more rhythmic electronica of tracks like the title song ensures that the energy levels stay high.
The bonus LP is a real treat, featuring five songs, most of which feature Frahm’s acoustic solo piano work, with bass marimba from Sven Kacirek and “Ringing” featuring wisps of cello from Anne Müller. It is perfect for a winter’s afternoon, a very similar tone to his work on “Solo”, his 2015 LP.
The exception is “Harmonium In The Well” which features, well, a harmonium in a well. This picks up one of the album’s themes, around the environment that the record was made in. The record was almost finished when Frahm went to his friend Tobias’s studio in Mallorca. Tobias has discovered a dry well and the track in question draws on the extensive reverb that this long brick tube provides.
The majority of the album was recorded in Frahm’s new studio in Saal 3 in Funkhaus Berlin (I know, what a great name for a studio). It is an old East German building, dating from the fifties and each of the rooms provides a different ambient quality. It was used to test audio and acoustic equipment and the pioneering technological angle clearly appeals to Frahm’s inner gear nerd. In particular, the Funkhaus sessions have reverb as a commonality with the Mallorcan well. Three of the rooms in Berlin are old reverb chambers where Frahm and his engineers fed their own music via speakers which they then recorded back again with microphones with the added reverb now in place. It is subtle and best appreciated on headphones.
The studio is also being used as a performance space (Alva Nota, Carl Craig and Four Tet are already booked to play there in 2018). That’s the way to keep venues and studios alive!
You can get a very good flavour of the album via this trailer here:
A shout out to Torsten Posselt at Felt who has created the gorgeous sleeve for the album. In an era of streaming, real care has been taken in putting this together. There is a 12″ by 12″ booklet with extensive sleeve notes from Frahm with annotated photographs of the studio. The outer cover is a matt textured cardboard with a photo of two of the rooms in the Funkhaus pasted to the front.
You can’t deny the Funkhaus being the cover star as, on reflection, this is Frahm’s theme for “All Melody”. It is a sense of place and what that brings. Frahm is clearly loving life in his newly refurbished Berlin studio.
Here’s hoping that it brings more fantastic music from Frahm and perhaps inspires other artists to take benefit of the unique qualities that the space offers.
And I can’t wait to for the Barbican concert in a few days time too.