Nils Frahm fans have been waiting two years for their favourite pianist-composer to retrofit Saal 3, Funkhaus, in Berlin with a new studio. Here Frahm recorded All Melody, his 8th album set to be released on January 26, 2018. The same week, Frahm will begin his first world tour since 2015. Tickets to the Danforth Music Hall show in Toronto on March 23, 2018 — less than a week before Frahm’s beloved Piano Day on March 29 — are nearly sold out. And for good reason.
As a pianist, to receive a preview of All Melody was an incredible gift. I rushed home, excited to hear more of the composer’s stunning command of percussive melodies interspersed with hushed, rich harmonies on prepared and regular pianos.
Not so with All Melody.
Frahm’s newest album is a lush array of electronic compositions created by custom-built instruments and the manual, ambient reverb of Funkhaus, a former GDB broadcast centre built in the 1950s. It opens with the echoing footsteps of “The Whole Universe Wants to Be Touched,” drawing the listener into an ethereal, haunting, Björkish four-part vocal harmony over bass and pipe organ. By “Kaleidoscope,” I felt like I had flown above all the different types of topographies on earth, or beyond. It was as though the universe had enveloped me with music. It was a perfect circle.
All Melody is a logical progression from the electronic ostinatos and sparse piano motifs in “Says” (Spaces, 2013), Frahm’s 2015 score for the motion picture Victoria, and his late-night set with Ólafur Arnalds in Trance Frendz (2016). Apparently Frahm has always wanted to make electronic music — his previous solo piano albums and collaborations but a beautiful mistake after recording his first album Wintermusik (2009) for his parents as a Christmas gift (his mother dislikes electronic music). Yet his scores remain unique and beautiful, adorned with a variety of samples and electronic and orchestral instrumentation. The song titles recall nature and the cosmos, echoing Frahm’s desire for a less cluttered, less consumer-based culture.
“Sunson” is the first electronic “track” on All Melody, cleverly demonstrating Frahm’s complete departure from his previous oeuvre, save the dramatic stop mid-song. The explorative “A Place” and very eerie “Human Range” pick back up on the vocal experimentation heard in the opening track. It is not until “My Friend the Forest,” the third track of the album 12 minutes in, and later in “Fundamental Values,” that Frahm’s soft piano aesthetic returns.
The 9.5-minute title track, “All Melody,” and “Kaleidoscope” feature Frahm’s signature percussive ostinatos, but they are now smoothed by his new electronic medium. “#2” seamlessly follows the steady bass thump and Rhodes samples of “All Melody” before spiraling into a cinematic score that continues with rich string samples. A quiet return of “All Melody” is also heard in “Momentum,” which recalls Björk’s “Hyperballad” at the end. It would be very surprising if “All Melody” did not make it into ambient dance sunrise and chill sets. It is a very inspiring composition.
All Melody is contemplative, intimate and otherworldly. It is a journey that will grow on you with each song. And while the compositions on All Melody differ from Frahm’s traditional stripped-down solo piano and cinematic scores, it retains profound artistry. All Melody reaffirms that Frahm is a composer of extraordinary talent and subtlety.
SPILL ALBUM REVIEW: NILS FRAHM – ALL MELODY