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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Album review: Nils Frahm plays with the right tools in All Melody

Free from a concept, the German artist release a dark and soothing record

All Melody by Nils Frahm.
All Melody by Nils Frahm.

All Melody

Nils Frahm

(Erased Tapes)

A master always needs the right tools.

Such was the case with German ambient music composer Nils Frahm, who dedicated the past five years to painstakingly build his dream studio inside the famed 1950s East German recording studio, Funkhaus, beside the River Spree. Despite its vintage pedigree, Frahm deconstructed the space and kept it modern.

A pipe organ and a custom-made mixing desk were built and Frahm moved in his arsenal of keyboards and drum machines. The end result is All Melody, his beautifully textured ninth album.

What is immediately striking here is how it lacks a particular theme. Nearly all of Frahm’s oeuvre revolved around a basic concept, which at times almost felt like a challenge he sets himself. His previous record, 2011’s Felt, had Frahm composing on a piano draped with a heavy cloth, which resulted in a sound as equally oblique as rhythmic.

The follow-up was even more daring – 2012’s Screws had him playing with nine fingers after he broke his thumb.

All Melody does away with all of that and you can hear that sense of catharsis through the tracks. Frahm is not interested in virtuosity here, instead it is all about creating a sustained mood. Hence, the recommendation to hear it in one setting and preferably with good headphones.

The nine-minute Sunson is a hazy dream of washed out keyboards and forlorn organ pipes that only perks up with the arrival of subtle synths and a bass marimba. My Friend the Forest is all about the details: the quiet and almost improvised piano is accompanied by gentle guitar strumming. The rhythm is provided through the shifting of the piano hammers – meaning Frahms placed the microphones deep within the instrument.

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It is in the title track where the proceedings liven up a tad through muted dance-music rhythms and a spree of Frahm’s powerful ostinatos.

Chilled enough for a late-night drive and with enough energy to feature in a Sunset Dance Music compilation, All Melody finds Frahm loose and free.