Review: Nils Frahm’s Encores 2

In Anticipation of Nils Frahm’s performance at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall later this month, Logan’s Close’s Ollie Turbitt discusses Frahm’s latest EP, Encores 2, and how it pioneers excellence.

Around 60 years on from its conception, ambient music has retained prowess in underground circles through a constant cycle of reinvention and innovation. Today, as Bandcamp accounts and major labels contribute to a perpetual stream of ambient releases, the genre has evolved into an overwhelmingly complex entity. One name, however, has prevailed in mainstream and experimental opinion over the past decade: Nils Frahm.

Throughout his career, the Berlin-based pianist has forged a unique marriage of classical instrumentation and electronic production, and his back catalogue provides some of the most emotive art music of the 21st century. Frahm’s recent four-track EP, Encores 2, was released as part of a series of companion pieces to 2018’s All Melody. Although it consists of music composed simultaneously with the LP, don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a collection of throwaway B-sides – it is a perfect example of Frahm’s prolific work ethic and the scope of his music as a whole.

Across its four tracks, we can hear the composer’s reflections on 20th century pioneers like Satie and Ravel alongside contemporary electronic experimentation. The melancholic opener ‘Sweet Little Lies’ is Frahm at his minimalist best – a piano sequence is guided through cinematic tone changes by a subtle arrangement of strings and synths. ‘A Walking Embrace’ continues in this vein, as plodding bass patterns underpin a haunting, continually-morphing melody. It is impossible not to be affected by Frahm’s ear for harmony in these two pieces, as he effortlessly shifts melodies across bittersweet chord changes without sacrificing the simplicity of his performance.

On the EP’s second half, Frahm exhibits his electronic side. ‘Talisman’ is a lush composition which evokes the soft synth pads of Aphex Twin’s ambient works- but again the composer’s unmistakable melodic overtones take centre stage. ‘Spells’ is the centrepiece of the record, and it combines an upbeat sub-bass riff with jittery, space-age arpeggios across twelve minutes of incredible experimentation. As usual, Frahm’s production is half of the fun – each track was recorded through a stone well in Mallorca, and muddy echoes of this environment give the release an astonishing sense of space. With this level of original artistry, it is no wonder Nils Frahm continues to be revered as the torchbearer of modern ambient.

 

Image: concerts. photography. music. love. via Flickr

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