nonkeen Oddments of the Gamble

Nils Frahm & Co. deliver a sometimes subdued, occasionally soaring session of playful experimentation.
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nonkeen oddments of the gamble

The lead track on Oddments of the Gamble, “kassettenkarussel,” opens with a ten-second burst of rough static, something akin to the roar of a highway full of 18-wheelers as filtered though a cheap, busted mike. But don’t search for much in the way of abrasiveness on the new album from nonkeen, the lower-case–loving trio of Nils Frahm and his Berlin-based cohorts Frederic Gmeiner and Sebastian Singwald; there’s comforting, soothing beauty to much of Oddments, which, as the name implies, is a quick follow-up to this past winter’s The Gamble, and is largely culled from the same batch of source material.

Though many of Oddments’ tracks are infused with a feeling of tranquility and/or elation, there is a certain inherent glitchiness to the album, as one would expect given the recording process. Like The Gamble, the new album is, in part, a reworked assemblage of bits and pieces from the four-track recordings that the threesome—childhood friends, with a shared obsession with found sounds and entry-grade tape machines—made in the ’90s.

The two releases may have similar origins, but there’s a distinct contrast in mood: the first LP stews, while this one soars. Rather than the rigorous, high-minded formalism that one might expect of a group that counts Frahm among its members, there’s youthful playfulness at hand on Oddments. There’s also a kind of majesty, one borne out by an affinity for subtly grand melodies, which works in juxtaposition to the album’s brief, jewel-like cuts—most of these tracks clock in at well under four minutes, and the entire LP barely reaches 40 minutes.

After that initial burst dissonance, “kassettenkarussel” gives a good clue as to what expect from Oddments. A gentle loop, reminiscent of a far-away organ, gives way to fluttering synths gliding above muted, vaguely tribal toms. There’s a dreamland quality to the track (as there is to much of the album), but it’s a dream that’s over quickly, coming to a sudden, jolting finish. Similarly, the lush keyboards and loose-limbed, jazzy drumming of “the monkey in the machine” fade into the ether just as you’re sinking into the song, while the plucked strings and placid harmonics of “happy juno” end just two and a half minutes after they begin. You wish that nonkeen had extended these tracks just a bit more—there’s a hypnotic effect built into these tunes, one that’s partly sabotaged by their economy of scale. But that’s a small complaint, given their inherent rough-hewn elegance.

A few moments on Oddments boast an amped-up tension level— like “world air,” with its swelling drone and frantic drumming, or the machine-room clank and clatter of “copy of crazy.” But the album is at its best when it walks the line between the cosmic and the intimate. Vaguely reminiscent of the jam-session middle section “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” from Traffic, “the journey of hello peter” is all slithering groove and freeform weirdness; album closer “schwertfisch” is an introspective mix of looped ambience and Frahm’s poignant piano work. But the album’s best track—and perhaps not coincidentally, its longest—is “diving partner,” a reverb-heavy, chiming waltz that’s pure sweetness, drifting by like billowing clouds on a sunny day. Like much of Oddments of the Gamble, it’s the soundtrack for a session of subdued reverie.

Tracklisting:

01. kassettenkarussell
02. told and small
03. the journey of hello peter
04. diving platform
05. people in dresden out for a walk/reisegenuss
06. happy juno
07. back and forth
08. glow
09. world air
10. obviously algebra
11. copy of crazy
12. the monkey in the machine
13. schwertfisch

Oddments of the Gamble is scheduled for July 15 release via R&S Records.