Nils Frahm stands out to fans of ambient music as an electronic producer and pianist ready to fill your brain with a tantalising fusion of classical composition and electronic reverb. He is an artist who since the mid-noughties, alongside his esteemed record label Erased Tapes, has brought forth sounds seemingly from other worlds. All Melody, his most recent album, is a continuation of his eclectic and nuanced music history, and stands up as an innovative and stylised album of its own.
All Melody starts extremely well. ‘The Whole Universe Wants To Be Touched’, a beautiful first track, uses a sumptuous arrangement of choral vocals to immediately lull the listener into a calm sway, before smoothly progressing into calm electronic chords reminiscent of his previous album, Spaces. It merges sweetly into the more upbeat second track, ‘Sunson’ to create a lovely 15 minute opening. What is most compelling about this beginning is its satisfaction of one of Frahm’s key talents: his ability to blend classical themes and arrangements into an avant-garde expression, only to then lift it seamlessly into a more accessible, galvanised form. He merges the initial vocals into a thematic warp, that then gives way to a rich, bouncy, electronic sound. An understated ambience is then established and perpetuated in the follow up track ‘A Place’, before Frahm shifts to familiar territory on ‘My Friend the Forest’. Here, Frahm seems to revisit his work on one of his subtler albums, Screws, and pours out a tentative and melodic electronic piano piece. Amongst this composition lies the familiar clicks and clacks of his piano, recorded as such to preserve the mechanical feeling of the instrument. The lamenting notes that dance out of his fingers are heartrending and delightful.
“Turning the erratic nature of experimental ambient music into more layered and formulaic tracks that edge towards beautiful crescendos”
By the album’s midpoint, Frahm has very much created a sense of journey or want thereof, a feeling perhaps best termed in his native tongue as wanderlust. Tracks like ‘Human Range’ and ‘Forever Changeless’ tinkle by and draw the listener deeper into the music, before reaching towards a rather epic middle portion of the album. Looping, sweeping songs like the titular ‘All Melody’ and ‘#2’ ascend to wonderfully euphoric moments. The progression of these tracks is fantastically immersive, but what is most incredible is Frahm’s tendency to build a track up with increasing ferocity, blessing us with a few ecstatic moments, before shifting musical focus in the pursuit of new sonic variation. He creates moments of ecstasy and leaves them behind in pursuit of a new sound, mid track. The feeling created is one synonymous with that experienced when listening to classical music. I found myself mourning the transition of certain musical sections into others, desperate to hold onto a known and rewarding sound. But, despite this, the exchange of a beautiful moment for the pursuit of a new one drives the piece into a fulfilling complexity. Frahm seems to be fully aware of this, building his songs to a climax before changing direction, offering reflective mid points to the listener and novel musical pathways for explore.
Despite this heaped praise, the album is not perfect. There are times when tracks feel drawn out, and sometimes the ambient sounds created seem to merely act as filler between compositions. The final track, ‘Harm Hymn’ is perhaps the worst. The album is screaming for a more powerful ending, another blissful moment or delicate piano tug at the heart, yet instead it stalls with a rather boring collection of warps. It begs for a bang or even a fade, but instead plateaus. Tracks like ‘Fundamental Values’ and ‘Momentum’ also seem rather plain when compared to earlier moments. It is at these latter points when the album is dullest, melodically at its weakest, and most contextually directionless compared to its vivid and exciting beginning.
All Melody has a lucid texture and a beautifully unique feel. It combines many of the skills demonstrated on previous albums like Spaces or Screws to create something genuinely moving, providing a beautiful ambience in which to soak up transcendent vibrations. Frahm excels at turning the erratic nature of experimental ambient music into more layered and formulaic tracks that edge towards beautiful crescendos, and offers an intersection between classical and modern approaches to create something accessible yet artistically challenging. All Melody is a brilliant culmination of his excellent repertoire as a pianist and an electronic producer and provides a stimulating, immersive listen. However, it loses some of its grace towards the end, causing holistic damage to an otherwise flawless album.
Artist: Nils Frahm. Label: Erased Tapes. Top Tracks: The Whole Universe Wants To Be Touched; Sunson; #2. For Fans Of: Anything else on Erased Tapes. 74 minutes