For many artists, the studio is as much a feature of a recording as the music itself. On the one hand, there are those artists who actively rebel against comfort and familiarity and who seek a studio that will jolt them from a musical rut. Take, for example, Berlin’s famous Hansa Studios that has seen everyone from David Bowie and Iggy Pop to Depeche Mode and U2 rip apart everything they know to reinvent and reconstruct themselves. On the other hand, some artists revel in the familiarity and comfort of a studio. Think, the Beatles and Abbey Road, Trident and Queen, Sun Studios and the founders of rock ‘n’ roll – to name just three. On new album All Melody, German, avant-garde, electro-classical artist Nils Frahm, finds himself caught somewhere between the two.
Funkhaus studios, in what was East Berlin, is also home to Frahm’s own, newly completed “Saal3s” studio (pictured on the front cover of the album). A recording space that he renovated himself and in doing so is intimately familiar with every aspect of it, from the decor to the location of the wires that criss-cross the floors. It’s a place where he is totally in control and, more importantly, it affords him an opportunity he has never had before. A chance to have a studio that works for him rather than the other way round. A chance to articulate exactly the melodies in his head, free of any restrictions. However, while the studio itself may feel warm and congenial with its herringbone floors and tall windows, in effect, it has also shaken his music up.
All Melody is as artistic an album as anything Frahm has done before, owing as much to abstract art as classical music. It is influenced as much by the mundanities of everyday life as the complexities of scales and chord sequences. Few artists manage to perfectly marry together such a myriad of disparate and independent ideas. Nevertheless, Frahm teases and disguises sounds to create an evocative and emotional alluring album that remains tantalisingly out of reach. The album is comprised of seemingly constantly evolving pieces that actively camouflage themselves just as the listener begins to get to grips with them. In that way, it stands as one of the most gloriously beguiling albums of recent memory.
After the all too brief, “The Whole Universe Wants to Be Touched”, Frahm opens out his sound on the expertly paced, elongated “Sunson”. Opening with Frahm’s signature unhurried, reverberating beats he introduces sampled pan-pipes that he gently skews and warps. Framed by deep, expansive synth chords, the piece gently inches towards the edge before plummeting and gracefully catching flight again before hitting bottom. “A Place” adds wordless, ethereal female vocals that offer a sophisticated operatic feel, as Frahm, again crisscrosses soft beats, samples, and live instrumentation.
On “My Friend the Forest”, Frahm evokes the soft hiss and warmth of old vinyl with wonderful ripples of a piano. In effect, it’s like putting on a lost jazz record for the first time. It also highlights how adept Frahm is at dislocating his music from time and place as it sounds like it could have come from any decade since the 1930s. On “Human Range” he carefully catches the trumpet notes that emerge from the darkness, gently massaging them before letting them retreat into the shadows. “Forever Changeless” is another plaintive, light jazz piece that finds Frahm wringing every drop of emotion out of every note.
After a more urgent, skittish opening “All Melody” sees Frahm elongating melodies like water droplets that grow and stretch before falling to the floor. On the more polyrhythmic, “#2”, the dynamic shift is even more startling as before long the listener finds themselves unknowingly swaddled in a warm and comforting collage of sound. As on many of the songs on the album, layers of sound seem to melt together before reforming as something entirely new.
On “Momentum” Frahm weaves low, bassy male and higher female harmonies together before allowing them to fall away. In doing so he cleverly creates a real sense of space with only gentle tapping, like lone footprints, filling the gaps. “Fundamental Values” is driven by a bittersweet piano motif while the appropriately named “Kaleidoscope” is a giddy mix of polyrhythms and arpeggios that gradually lose their moorings to become something almost transcendental. The album concludes with the melancholic and funereal “Harm Hymn” which provides a fitting, almost ecclesiastical, conclusion to the album.
On All Melody Frahm skillfully abstractifies the familiar sounds and concepts of his previous work. By challenging himself to make the most out of his new recording environment, he has refreshed his sound and ended up with his most engaging and accessible work to date. It is a wholly immersive triumph that draws you in tight as few albums do.