album of the month
Nils Frahm 'All Melody' (Erased Tapes)
Reclining along the east bank of Berlin’s Spree river lies the vast, modernist Funkhaus complex. For four decades, up until the fall of communism in what used to be East Germany, it housed the state-run radio broadcasting division for one of history’s most paranoid regimes. Twenty-five years later, one of the Funkhaus’ large rooms is the musical home of Nils Frahm. Over the space of six months, the neo-classical lynchpin converted it into a bespoke studio facility. It’s here, inside the Haus that Nils built, that Frahm has composed his masterpiece – because that’s exactly what ‘All Melody’ is.
It starts simply, with a short, haunting piece of choral voices and organ that boasts an ambitious title: ‘The Whole Universe Wants To Be Touched’. If it’s a statement of intent, then he delivers. As strings gently rise, ‘Sunson’ unfurls like a winter crocus, underpinned by stabbing bass keys and an early appearance for Frahm’s magical hand-built pipe organ (a star, later, of the fluttering, church-like ‘Kaleidoscope’). ‘My Friend The Forest’ is just artist and piano, but he leaves in the sound of his feet working the pedals, even his breathing. It’s the epitome of his aesthetic – it’s profoundly moving, and feels like you’re sitting in on your own special one-to-one performance.
The voices reappear on the eerie jazz hymnal ‘Human Range’, but again, they never utter words. Instead, they’re as powerful an instrument as Frahm’s sublime keyboards or the mellifluous cello of his collaborator, Anne Müller. Later – on the title track and ‘#2’– Frahm even makes tentative steps towards the dancefloor, and as on several other occasions, enters what feels like a meditative state. It’s a record with a very rare power, and one that may even recalibrate your relationship with music. Stephen Worthy
Nightmares On Wax 'Shape The Future' (Warp)
There’s a lot in this record that could seem silly. Talk of collective consciousness and higher vibrations over smooth beats could so easily be the worst kind of chill-out cliché – especially given the last album that George Evelyn made, 2014’s ‘N.O.W. Is The Time’, felt like his contented life in Ibiza had settled into a creative rut. But somehow, ‘Shape The Future’ is absolute magic. The contentment is very much here – this is an album to settle yourself into like a vast bean bag – but it’s expressed through absolute sonic delight, from the beginning until the end.
There’s roots reggae (‘Tomorrow’), broken beat mixed with gospel soul (‘Citizen Kane’, which has already spawned the album’s first gold-plated dancefloor classic thanks to a Ron Trent remix), and all the downbeat dreaminess of his trip-hop era classics ‘Smokers Delight’ and ‘Carboot Soul’. But even more noticeable is that there’s a renewed love of beat editing, texture manipulation and deep dubwise bass, and a sense of mission in the songs. Mighty vocalists (LSK, Andrew Ashong, Mozez and Sadie Walker, among others) deliver songs of fortitude which struggle bravely against adversity, giving the album the bittersweetness that balances the euphoria in all the best soul and dance music. So among all the lush strings, gentle atmosphere and head-nodding basslines, there’s a steely core, and a razor-sharp focus that makes it a complete record worth playing in full. It can seem gentle, silly even, but this is tough music for tough times. Joe Muggs