Who could’ve predicted neo-classical’s sudden surge in popularity? Call it what you will—modern composition, ambient, sound art, or call it all three—it seems a greater portion of listeners than ever before have cottoned onto the delicate, slow-burning beauty of what, until recently, has been a kind of best-kept secret, preserved for those in the know. As is often the case when a style of music—if you can generalize it—catches aflame, one artist drove this upwards spike.
Nils Frahm, with his clever intermingling of electronics and classical tropes, has become its figurehead, (alongside a handful of others, like Max Richter), and this form of composition has had support from some prominent figures, such as the UK’s taste-making DJ, Mary Anne Hobbs. But if any one label can be said to be pushing the scene, it’s Frahm’s home imprint, Erased Tapes.
The label has been quietly releasing an exceptional and very particular sound since 2006. Though counting more overtly dance acts among its stable, like Rival Consoles, for the most part, that intersection where machines meet human emotion, and instrumentation meets programming, has been their specialism. Ólafur Arnalds, who recently, like Nils, created an edition of the Late Night Tales compilation series, is among their rising names, as is Ben Lukas Boysen.
The Berlin-based musician—classically trained since the age of seven and the son of an opera singer—is something of a protégé of Frahm’s. Having impressed with 2013's Gravity LP, Ben has made the transition to Erased Tapes for his latest long-player, Spells, which was mixed and mastered by Nils himself.
Lukas Boysen’s modus operandi is to thread together delicate improvisation with programmed parts, with the help of several guest musicians. Tremulous, quiet, deeply emotional arrangements are the key aspects, pianos painted in and shimmering synths playing atop.
The point is, you can’t see the join. Album highlight "Sleepers Beat Theme" is all huge piano chords, harp plucks (courtesy of Lara Somogyi), and gentle bubbling electronics; it sounds recorded to tape, replete with hiss, and like it’s been played in a grand chamber. It’s rather beautiful.
"Golden Times 1," contrary to its title, has a deeply melancholic tilt, but the introduction of a cello (played by Anton Peisakhov) to its cascading piano is so powerful it cuts through to the marrow. Distorted synths are added, layer on layer, to become a densely textured paper mache topography, and for the first time, beats, a 4/4 pulsing in the backdrop.
"Nocturne 4" is reminiscent of Radiohead as much as Sigur Ros or Explosions in the Sky in its slow, epic build and dark, sad core. "Keep Watch" is liable to bring tears. That he’s composed soundtracks for clients as varied as Marvel and Amnesty International shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.
Taken as a whole, Spells is an impressive addition to Erased Tapes’ catalog. Though it’s far from an everyday listen, those moments when it’s played will be even more exquisite.
01. The Veil
02. Nocturne 3
03. Sleepers Beat Theme
04. Golden Times 1
05. Nocturne 4
06. Keep Watch
07. Golden Times 2
Spells LP is scheduled for June 10 release via Erased Tapes.