At first glance, Berlin trio Brandt Brauer Frick's acoustic, classically derived techno can be overshadowed by its novelty. The concept that three accomplished classical musicians are crafting intricate dance rhythms entirely from scratch, without the use of synthesizers, drum machines, or computers, tends to dominate the conversation about Daniel Brandt, Jan Brauer, Paul Frick, and their music. Such a unique quality should not be taken lightly either. Brandt Brauer Frick's form of organic dance music goes well beyond commissioning an orchestra to bring an already-composed electronic piece to life—something we've seen many times before—and as the trio presents a moodier and more experimental vision of itself on its third album, Miami, it's time for the conversation to go deeper.
This seems to be a sentiment that Brandt, Brauer, and Frick have internalized. Allowing themselves deviations from their own formula for this record, they've added vocalists like Emika, Jamie Lidell, and the sultry Nina Kraviz, and even elected to plug in from time to time. On the video for Miami's kinetic lead single, "Plastic Like Your Mother," the trio appears in stripped-down opposition to the ensemble it assembled on 2011's Mr. Machine. Working with nothing more than a Nord keyboard, a simple mixing board, and a drumkit, the group's decision to shake things up hasn't affected the overall aesthetic. With Sa-Ra vocalist and in-demand production talent Om'Mas Keith settling into the track with his jazzy, spoken-word incantations, a long-winding intro of near whispers, dramatic piano chords, and pitter-patter percussion gives way to a galloping rhythm, racing heartbeat bass, blasts of baritone brass, and a skittish string plucking that exemplifies the trio's penchant for turning all of its instruments into new forms of auxilary percussion.
These avant-garde techniques, not to mention the prominently featured 28-person modern-dance troupe tapping and clapping its way through the video, call to mind Brandt Brauer Frick's appreciation of artists like John Cage and his influence on the fluxus art movement, which the three have said is a big influence on Miami. Listening to the record through this filter, it becomes apparent that Brandt Brauer Frick is especially concerned with highlighting interdisciplinary interplay this time around. On "Skiffle It Up," synthesized sub-bass features more prominently than in any compositions past, and the result offers a glimpse of how well more traditional electronic-music production methods marry with the trio's clattering, highly syncopated style. "Broken Pieces" and "Empty Words," which see Brandt Brauer Frick joined by musical kindred spirit Jamie Lidell, cozy up to tight pop structure rather than sprawling techno evolution. Sharing a penchant for leftfield cacophony, Lidell and the band are peas in a pod, especially on "Broken Pieces," the former's blue-eyed soul and beatbox embellishments offering a perfect complement to the group's big-band horn riffing, diced-up string section, and fuzzy bass undertones.
Though Miami displays a jazzier, looser, and often darker side of Brandt Brauer Frick, it doesn't overshadow the classical techno-ensemble sound the trio first introduced on You Make Me Real. "Ocean Drive (Schamane)" faithfully continues the band's earlier qualities, letting layers of bold grand piano take center stage over the punch of stiff upright bass and Brandt's tightly-wound drumming. The album's breezy, Floridian motif manifests itself across "Miami Theme," "Miami Drift," and "Miami Titles," each of which attract comparisons to Cinematic Orchestra's epic jazz drama and Herbert's stuttering style. The latter of the three serves as a succinct closing statement of where Brandt's, Brauer's, and Frick's collective head is at. The fastidiousness that has typically characterized the ensemble's organic techno methodology has relaxed here, and as the sweeping piano melody of "Miami Titles" carries the album towards its final moments, it's clear that Brandt Brauer Frick has found a space where its members can more freely explore, and just as masterfully, they've arrived without forgetting the qualities that got them here.