Nils Frahm: Spaces
Similar Artists: Max Richter, Steve Reich, Erik Satie
Genre: Minimalism, Modern-Classical
Label: Erased Tapes
The weather’s getting colder, and NYC’s striving artists have retreated to the subways to gift us with their musical talents in the hope that we will provide them with petty cash so they can sustain themselves through the tough months that lie ahead. During this past holiday weekend alone, I heard countless performers from such backgrounds as jazz, soul, percussion, and even opera. That’s not to mention the hordes of freestyle dancers flipping around subway carts to hip-hop. As much as I love these omnipresent musical flourishes throughout my day-to-day travels, they will often distract me from my personal headphone space, and I will have to put my isolated world on hold until I reach a quieter destination. However, with Nils Frahm’s latest solo offering, Spaces, the gifted young pianist has crafted a 70 minute modern-classical epic that as far as my travels have taken me, has remained incapable of being tarnished by any outside factor; all the saxophonists, soul singers, percussionists and dancers seem to arrive at the perfect time, blending inconspicuously into the vast open arena that is this music
That may seem a bit fantastical, as this isn’t quite as empty as ambient music, but it has to do with the spacious, occasionally barren, and most of all wintery, piano music that Nils Frahm is composing. I’m not 100% sure if Spaces is intended to be a live document, or a career compilation, or possibly an entirely new full length (only a few of these pieces have yet to be released in one form or another) but it is clear that it’s intended to feel intimate and personal; like Nils himself is sitting in front of us with his grand piano, fighting back the coldness of the air to play us one more composition. And grand compositions these are, as never before has the young pianist reproduced his sprawling talent within a statement as commendable as this one.
My introduction to Nils Frahm was through his brief 3 song EP Wintermusic, which was recommended to me at the time due to my obsession with minimalist piano music such as Erik Satie, as well as more modern classical composers such as Max Richter. As pleasant as Wintermusic was though, despite being an album I enjoyed to listen to during 2011 snowstorms (if I had already listened to Kate Bush’s 50 Words for Snow that day), it offered little to hold on to, and I never ended up chasing after any of the artist’s other work. Spaces, however, is massive, elemental, and more experimental/avant-garde in nature. As far as modern-classical works go, this is the most notable I’ve heard since Richter’s pivotal The Blue Notebooks.
It starts off on the noisier side with the uncharacteristically brief “An Aborted Beginning”, which clings to the listener with percussion (also uncharacteristic) and a slight dub infusion. “Says”, at 8:18, is the first real piece, and it sees Nils at his most hypnotic and momentous, ever so slightly picking up the pace every measure until exploding into a cathartic climax. From there he moves to “Said and Done”, which along with brand new track “Hammers” feels minimalist in the Steve Reich/Philip Glass kind of way. Compared to intense moments such as these, I first felt the three song middle section of “Went Missing”, “Familiar”, and “Improvisation for Coughs and a Cell Phone” — which are all slowly moving solo piano pieces — to be a bit on the boring side, especially when pitted against the more epic, synth driven pieces, but they also allow us to get a better grasp on Frahm’s improvisational supremacy, and how he feels comfortable no matter how abstract his music becomes. Still, there are no words to describe how great it feels when the huge, pulsating chords open up “For-Peter-Toilet Brushes-More”. As the four part title suggests, the nearly 20 minute track represents everything that is great about Nils Frahm and wraps it into one continuously flowing monologue.
I’m usually all about moving while listening to music, like I’m in fear that if I stay cemented for too long the music will stop affecting me. Spaces though, is an album I feel completely comfortable doing just about anything with (reading, studying, browsing the web, resting) without the music’s flow ever departing from my consciousness. In other words, it’s an album you could live with; each playthrough ever so slightly drawing you into the cold winter ahead.
1.) An Aborted Beginning
3.) Said and Done*
4.) Went Missing
6.) Improvisation For Coughs and a Cell Phone
8.) For-Peter-Toilet Brushes-More*
9.) Over There, It’s Raining
11.) Ross’s Harmonium
Album Highlight – *