Berlin’s Nils Frahm is best known for bridging the gap between the worlds of electronic and classical music. Famed composers such as Philip Glass, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Steve Reich may have hit upon this fusion first, but Frahm’s records go somewhere new, with their post-dance music touches of headphone techno, ambient, and minimalism.
Balancing avant-garde elements with haunting melodies, the German musician has helped clear a path for other like-minded artists working at the interface between these genres, from Hauschka to Jóhann Jóhannsson. As a result, Frahm and Robert Raths, boss of the influential label Erased Tapes, are at the forefront of a new classical movement. Their brand of melancholia and electronic experimentation is popular. Yet refusing to be typecast, on his latest solo album All Melody, Frahm has broadened his range, further exploring his love of electronics while folding in influences from jazz and choral music.
Made in the new Saal 3 studio in Berlin that Frahm has been constructing by increments for the last two years, All Melody is spacious, echoic, and possessed with a wintry majesty. It shimmers like the icy River Spree under a pale sun.
An instant standout is the heartbreaking “My Friend The Forest”: a simple, delicate piano piece reminiscent of “Ode” from 2015’s Solo album. You can hear the rustlings of the room, the hammers of the piano moving, Frahm’s feet pressing the pedals. But other songs are not so straightforward. “Sunson," after its sweeping orchestral beginning, melts into a slow house beat, with bumping synth bass and sinuous pipe organ, doused in delay.
“A Place” is an ambient piece of melancholy chords, with little melodies buried deep in the hiss and dust of the song’s sound bed. Here, massed female choir voices add a natural touch, yet the feeling is still frosty: you’ll want to pull your coat closer as a chill creeps through your bones. “Human Range” adds subtle smears of smoky trumpet for an artful hint of jazz similar to Call Super’s recent album Arpo, yet, again, the voices return, taking the song somewhere novel.
The title track is perhaps Frahm’s most techno moment yet, a deep dive into spectral machine textures with electric piano on top that veers from repetitive minimalist rhythm to complex playing, before disappearing entirely as the track intensifies its hypnotic and introspective spell. “Kaleidoscope," with its rapidly oscillating pipe organ textures, is like its title: wheels of colour fold into each other, forming new patterns and sensations. It’s a close cousin to the classic “Says” from his 2013 breakthrough record Spaces, though its feeling is less brooding and more psychedelic. The way the choral voices merge with the strings and organ is something special indeed.
All Melody is a beautiful record, though a sad one. The ambient melodies of “#2” demonstrate not just Frahm’s masterful sense of restraint, but also the capacity of electronic music to vividly explore downbeat feelings. That bittersweet feeling pervades the record, but lovers of introspective sounds will adore it.
With All Melody, Nils Frahm has retained his unique approach and emotional sensitivity. He’s also expanded his sound, and shown more of his soul than ever before. It’s a record to be treasured.
01. The Whole Universe Wants To Be Touched
03. A Place
04. My Friend The Forest
05. Human Range
06. Forever Changeless
07. All Melody
10. Fundamental Values
12. Harm Hymn