Albums of 2018 (#10): Nils Frahm – All Melody
Nils Frahm's seventh studio album, All Melody, may be his masterwork, at once a beautiful mood piece and a collection of danceable barnstormers
Over the past decade, Hamburg-born but Berlin-based Nils Frahm has quietly amassed such a following that it can no longer be considered a cult. His peerless brand of composition through various pianos and synths, both acoustic and electric, has made him something of an authority on contemporary classical music. His application of this to electronic music gives Frahm a crossover appeal that is seldom enjoyed by many, but then there aren't many around as gifted as the German composer.
This year's All Melody, his seventh solo studio record, released on the London-based Erased Tapes label, saw Frahm taking the momentum he acquired from 2013's Spaces and 2015's Solo and running with it full steam ahead, creating his masterwork. Frahm spent two years building his own studio space at the Funkhaus in Berlin, a massive former radio station that sits deep in the East along the Spree, with the same amount of painstaking detail that paints this record.
In one of the musical highlights of the year, Frahm invited a lucky group to witness a performance of the album from start to finish in his studio space, giving fans the opportunity to feel every drop of atmosphere that sits amongst Frahm's playing like a haze. In another, Frahm battled the gods of nature in an inspiring outdoor performance at Copenhagen's HAVEN Festival this year, managing to lift the mood of the soggy masses determined to dance through the unrelenting rain.
As these two very different examples prove, All Melody is such a flexible record; at once a beautiful mood piece and a collection of danceable barnstormers. It's the perfect record to lose oneself in, and every fingerprint Frahm leaves over its 74 minutes makes it one of the most thrilling listening experiences 2018 has to offer.
All Melody begins with the sound of footsteps, presumably Frahm's as he approaches his organ, reverberating around his studio, a slight cough and we're off. The organs pipe up, the vocal choir begin, the experience happens. The opening gambit of The Whole Universe Wants to Be Touched and Sunson display breathtaking levels of intimacy which colour All Melody unrelentingly throughout. From there it's difficult not to be taken into the trance that Frahm puts the listener under, such is his ability to create mood and atmosphere at the drop of a hat until the sudden dramatic pause wakes them.
For instance, My Friend the Forest is a stunning piece of minimalist piano playing which tugs not just at the heartstrings but provides a sense of nostalgia which is difficult to pin down. It's as if Radiohead's Pyramid Song took a sudden hopeful turn while remaining steeped in melancholia. Being able to hear every single shuffle the piano keys and room provides allows the song to breathe in ways many recording artists often shy away from.
At the album's centre is the double-headed beast of All Melody and #2, two tracks which over a total runtime of almost 20 minutes drive home Frahm's vision for this record suggested by its title. They swerve and shapeshift, peaking with energy and thrilling imagination and serve as the album's most danceable songs. The album simmers considerably after this centrepiece, but once again that isn't to say it loses any energy, merely a sign that Frahm is fully capable of capturing both ambient and driving moods, seamlessly moulding them into one.
Going into the album's final stretch, the aptly titled Momentum further slows the pace without losing a hint of the mood Frahm has conjured. Kaleidoscope offers one final descent into madness, all dizzying arpeggiated keys that swirl around as if traversing a maze, before Harm Hymn brings a peace and tranquillity that feels appropriate to close such a stunning record. Time will tell, but All Melody could be Frahm's masterwork. Either way, it stands as one of 2018's true highlights of electronic, ambient and contemporary classical music; with such cinematic scope and vision, it seems surprising it isn't an original soundtrack. However, this inspiring album encourages this idea all on its own, no visuals required.
All Melody was released on 26 Jan via Erased Tape Records