In 2018, Nils Frahm released his ninth studio album, All Melody, to near-universal acclaim. The album was an ambitious and meticulously crafted masterpiece, recorded in a Berlin studio he spent two years building. While the 74 minutes of music on All Melody would be enough to satisfy fans of Frahm’s sparse solo piano and ambient soundscapes, he was able to eke out a dozen more songs from those sessions, distributing them among three separate EPs – Encores 1, Encores 2, and Encores 3 – throughout this year.
Now comes All Encores. Buyer beware: this is not new music, and neither Frahm nor his label, Erased Tapes, have promoted it as such. Simply put, All Encores is the three Encores EPs gathered together in one convenient package. The original EPs were arranged in a methodical yet refreshingly simple manner. The first EP concentrated on the acoustic sounds of solo piano and harmonium. The second one explored more ambient soundscapes, and Encores 3 incorporated more of the percussive and electronic elements of Frahm’s music.
Taken as a whole, All Encores could almost be considered a sequel to All Melody. But seeing as how it came from the same sessions, it works more as a deconstructed companion piece. There’s an uncomplicated beauty to how the three sections are divided, and the gradual build-up over the 12 songs provides a subtle yet noticeable arc. The first track, “The Roughest Trade”, is perhaps the album’s most tender, vulnerable song, with gentle, deliberate piano notes providing a strong melodic backbone, sounding a great deal like Brad Mehldau at his most ruminative. The solo piano tracks on the first third of the album have that kind of intimate, low-key jazziness to them, even during “The Dane”, when a more muted sound gives the piano a slightly “treated” feel.
“Harmonium in the Well” sees Frahm dragging out the titular instrument with startling, emotionally resonant results, as the instrument’s chords are beautifully sustained over the track’s 11-and-a-half-minute run time. Frahm manages to give a solo harmonium the feel of a choir with its meditative, almost hymn-like atmosphere.
The more ambient feel of the album’s middle third is marked by a subtle noise bed on most of the tracks that sounds like crackling distortion, giving those tracks the eerie pall of long-lost archival recordings. But it doesn’t come off as gimmicky; rather, it provides a warmer blanket over the already warm sounds. The subtle layers of ambiance on a track like “A Walking Embrace” are particularly striking, with the solo piano laid out alongside subtle orchestrations. “Spells”, however, sees Frahm breaking away from those subtleties with a preview of sounds to come, as soothing yet insistent electronic sequencing begins to take over.
With the tracks from Encores 3 rounding out the collection, Frahm gives full vent to his experimental tendencies as vocal samples and jittery electronics dance around “Artificially Intelligent”. Meanwhile, “All Armed” marries somewhat exotic synth figures to a martial, semi-danceable beat, and “Amirador” seems to float weightlessly among deep, airy chords, acting as a sinister coda.
Anyone who goes into this album with the resigned attitude that it’s just leftovers from Frahm’s previous full-length release will be surprised to discover that it’s a remarkably consistent and deeply immersive listening experience. On All Encores, Frahm is – as usual – working with a full palette and a healthy sense of sonic curiosity.