Music

Nils Frahm: Felt

The felt itself is an additional instrument, a scrape of percussion as each key is played and released.


Nils Frahm

Felt

Label: Erased Tapes
US Release Date: 2011-10-07
UK Release Date: 2011-10-10
Website
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes
"...my piano asked me to be quiet and sensitive. It told me that if I would touch it softly that it would sound amazing and powerful and it kept its promise."

-- Nils Frahm, interviewed by themilkfactory

It's a gimmick, sure, but it works. Nils Frahm wanted to compose and play on his instrument of choice in the middle of the night, without breaking the stillness of the hour or the patience of his neighbors. Apparently deciding that a brick on the soft pedal wouldn't be enough to accomplish this, he put felt on the strings of the piano, dampening the instrument's sound while still ensuring that it remains playable. Then he played. Slowly, quietly, Nils Frahm played his newly modified instrument, and out of that instrument came the sublime and the beautiful.

Felt is a humble little masterpiece, an exploration of the tiny dark corners, the cracks in the concrete from which grass and the occasional flower appear. When Frahm is playing his piano, we hear the piano as beautifully and clearly as we would if he wasn't dampening the sound, but he offers hints as to just how quiet that piano is by accentuating just how loud the rest of the room is. The felt itself is an additional instrument, a scrape of percussion as each key is played and released. It is the piano whispering to the listener, telling secrets beyond the tale that Frahm has composed. The creak and thump of the pedal is audible, as is the sound of Frahm shifting ever so slightly in his seat.

When Frahm breathes while he is playing, he breathes in through his nose, and out through his mouth. You don't hear it often over the course of Felt, but when you do, that is how it sounds. These are details you don't need to hear, necessarily, but they are also details that bring you into an experience that has become more than simply a piano making music. It is an album about a certain time of night, about purity and isolation.

None of this is to say that Felt is a static album. Opener "Keep" and closer "More" both have long stretches of quickly-played, pulsing sixteenth notes, the constant din of raindrops in slowly growing puddles. The felt itself is a brushed snare on these tracks, a little bit of extra percussion resting on top of the muted tones of the treated piano. In other tracks, it fills in the gaps, little extra beats as Frahm lets go of the keys or moves the pedal in between chords. There are other instruments as well: An almost startling harmonium solo opens the pensive "Old Thought" while a distant spray of electronics is heard toward the end of the same track, and celeste and marimba make their way into the mix of a couple of tracks as well. Mostly, though, the album is dominated by Frahm's piano, and his devotion to his instrument is to Felt's credit.

It's in the piano that the sound is richest. It's in the piano that a track like "Familiar" can sound alternately like pop balladeering and soundtrack-esque atomsphere. It's in the piano that "Kind" finds a series of mysterious and creepy melodies, and it's in the piano that we hear just how accustomed we had become to the sustain pedal when Frahm finally lets it go halfway through "More".

Felt is a short album at only 44 minutes, but it almost has to be. These are thoughts as much as they are songs, and forcing them to overstay their welcome would only be excess. What we are left with instead is a brillant, beautiful album whose very nature allows it to work equally well as music for the background, where it serves as utterly unobtrusive wallpaper, or the foreground, where the little details can be noticed and treasured. Frahm has outdone himself.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
By the Book

Jack Halberstam's 'Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire' (excerpt)

Enjoy this excerpt of Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire, wherein Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which wildness has been associated with queerness and queer bodies throughout the 20th century.

Jack Halberstam
Music

Sotto Voce's 'Your Husband, the Governor' Is Beautifully Twisted DIY Indie Folk-rock

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Gabos releases another odd, gorgeous home studio recording under the moniker Sotto Voce.

Music

Numün's 'voyage au soleil' Is a Trippy, Ambient Ride and Ambitious Debut

Eclectic instrumental trio numün combine a wealth of influences to create a vibe that's both spacey and earthy on voyage au soleil.

Music

L7's 'Smell the Magic' Is 30 and Packs a Feminist Punch

Abortion is under threat again, and there's a sex offender in the Oval Office. A fitting time, in short, to crank up the righteously angry vocals of feminist hard rock heavy hitters like L7.

Books

Can Queer Studies Rescue American Universities?

Matt Brim's Poor Queer Studies underscores the impact of poorer disciplines and institutions, which often do more to translate and apply transformative intellectual ideas in the world than do their ivory-tower counterparts.

Music

Jim White Offers a "Smart Ass Reply" (premiere)

Jesus and Alice Cooper are tighter than you think, but a young Jim White was taught to treat them as polar opposites. Then an eight-track saved his soul and maybe his life.

Music

Ed Harcourt Paints From 'Monochrome to Colour'

British musician Ed Harcourt's instrumental music is full of turbulent swells and swirls that somehow maintain a dignified beauty on Monochrome to Colour.

Music

West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".

Culture

Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".

Music

Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.

Music

Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.

Music

The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.

Music

Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.

Books

For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?

Music

Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.