Thursday, 27 September 2012

Album: Nils Frahm - 'Screws'

If you live in the UK, there’s a chance you might have seen an advert for a free Internet / computer guide provided by the consumer guide organisation ‘Which?’. And if you have seen that advert, there’s an even stronger chance that you’ve seen the specific point in that advert in which an old woman talks about “how you don’t get anything for free anymore”. She is of course, wrong, the petulant fool – with the Internet, there’s probably never been more of an abundance of things that are available for free! Including this understated new release, Screws, by the acclaimed German 'neo-classical' ambient musician Nils Frahm, released for free to celebrate his 30th birthday on the 20th September (happy belated birthday, Nils!).

Now that the obligatory tenuous linking of Nils Frahm with the Which? consumer guide is over and done with*, let’s talk about the music.

Screws’ 28-minute length consists of nine short piano sketches composed during Frahm's process of recovery from a broken thumb; and it’s safe to say that these nine tracks are all cut very much from the same cloth – a fact that is emphasised by their similar titles (all two-or-three letter titles, with a vague relation to musical notes, bookended by tracks entitled “You” and “Me”), and visible in the fact that they’re all connected by the same sense of down-tempo, sparse melancholy. This often creates the feeling that, rather than a nine-track album, you are listening to one singular and continuous piano piece.

This certainly isn’t to the album’s detriment, however:  its relatively short length ensures that Screws singular instrumentation and mood doesn’t outstay its welcome, and repeated listens will reveal specific high points to the listener dedicated and attentive enough to seek them out.

For example, one of the major highlights for me is ‘Mi’ – a highly dynamic piece which fluctuates between gradually developing portions of rich, atmospheric piano and periods of near-silence – and, similarly, ‘Re’ and ‘Sol’ – two tracks that, in their quietly understated melancholy, recall, possibly more than any of the other tracks on Screws, the pioneering piano compositions of Erik Satie.

To conclude therefore, I would certainly recommend Screws to any fan of Nils Frahm - or of the likes of Peter Broderick and ├ôlafur Arnalds, his contemporaries in the field of contemporary ambient, 'neo-classical', music - as a brilliantly subtle and understated album that no doubt will be a perfect soundtrack for the approaching autumn. Also, it’s free!

Screws is available for free download here, and upcoming physical releases (CD / vinyl) are available for pre-order here.
* And it was obligatory, ignore whatever is said to the contrary

Sunday, 23 September 2012

YouTube Recommendation: Pan American live footage

(Live at Transmission V, 16-04-12 -- courtesy of YouTube user, katcollageart)

Can't go wrong with some live footage of Pan American!

In classic Mark Nelson-style, it's a very minimal performance -- simply effects-laden guitar work, accompanied by some slow, brushed drums and some additional tinkering on a laptop. But - again in classic Mark Nelson-style - less is definitely more, and we're left with a perfect example of the sort of ambient music Nelson has been perfecting since his days in pioneering post-rock outfit Labradford: where it's ambient enough to create a nocturnal atmosphere to lose yourself in, but not so ambient that it's simply sonic wallpaper.

Now, if anyone's got any live footage of Labradford kicking about... please, fix me with that content*.

* killer Labradford joke there. YOU'RE WELCOME.

YouTube Recommendation - Tricot - 'G. N. S'

(courtesy of YouTube user tricot0901)

Short note: I was originally going to write about this band in the first 'Foundcloud', but - by some evil coincidence* - I noticed that the track had been taken off of Soundcloud just after I'd finished writing the post. Anyway, I like this band a lot from what I've heard and so thought I'd write about them in this section instead.

And on we go...

Throughout much of this year, I’ve found myself enjoying a lot of music coming out of Japan. Most of that stuff was more in the field of electronic music, or ‘dream-pop’, with a lot of the great stuff coming out on Flau Records like Neon Cloud and Cuushe. Kyoto’s Tricot, however, are a very different beast – sounding as they do dramatic, kinetic and ‘mathy’ in a way that’s more akin to the likes of The Dismemberment Plan and Joan of Arc.

Opening confidently with a burst of angular, fast-paced instrumentation, G. N. S. is probably my favourite out of the tracks that I've heard by Tricot; and, like on the others, vocalist Ikkyu Nakajima sings in a way that fits perfectly with, and brilliantly emphasises, the drama and energy that is produced by the sound of the other band members going berserk in a way that sounds complex yet effortless. This music video for the track is a brilliant visual interpretation of the band's music, as the band's staccato guitar work and rhythmic energy are translated visually into quick edits and impressive visual techniques. Highly recommended!
* or highly calculated conspiracy, depending on how much of a Thomas Pynchon protagonist you are.

Foundcloud #1

Hi, readers. Welcome to the first post on this blog, which is also the first edition of a semi-regular segment in which I basically just write casually about music that I've recently found on Soundcloud*.

For this first edition, I’m going to talk about three tracks from my ever-growing ‘Favourites’ folder that have significantly struck a chord (pun semi-intended, due in part to being borderline unavoidable) with me.

Sam Willis – Winterval

From his upcoming album of the same name, this track is a brilliant exercise in layering and repetition. Driven by a strong rhythmic pulse characteristic not only of the dancefloor-centric nature of house, but also of the bass-driven grooves of dub and the more cerebral and atmospheric sounds of minimalism and ambient music, Willis adds layers of reverb-drenched, shoegazey guitars, liquid synths, and sparingly-used vocal samples to create a track that’s just as suitable for the solitude of headphones as it is for the collective experience of a rave or club environment.

Jimmy Otis Carter - Lost

Little disclaimer: I came across this on Soundcloud a long while ago but, unfortunately, Jimmy seems to have removed all his tracks from his Soundcloud page (, which is a shame... but this track’s on YouTube, which is handy!

Anyway, what really grabs me about this track is the production – it’s brilliantly understated, yet effective, in its use of somewhat indistinct, dreamy sampling – and this understated production fits perfectly with Carter’s vocals, to which there’s a real sense of stripped-down melancholy, especially as the track closes with a sad pining of “love don’t last forever”.

Fragile X – Bipolaroids (Panoramic)

If you’ve read some of my reviews on for the likes of Fieldhead and Mirrorring, you’ll no doubt be aware that I’m a real sucker for music that creates beauty from brokenness, and that can raise atmosphere from the most modest and lo-fi of recording set-ups. This track by Glasgow-based bedroom artist Fragile X was always going to appeal to me, in that case.

It’s a minimalistic piece of introverted, echo-laden acoustic folk in the vein of Flying Saucer Attack, Hood, and early Bibio – composed simply of acoustic guitar, ambient noise, and vocals, with occasional moments where the track breaks apart leaving only hushed vocals and disintegrated snippets of acoustic guitar and noise. Bipolaroids (Panoramic) is a great track: ‘rural psychedelia’ that manages to sound simultaneously small, in terms of its composition and production, and massive, in terms of how such minimalistic compositional and production techniques are actually applied.

* Thus the unimaginative name – alternative titles included “Head in the Soundcloud”, and “I Wandered Lonely as a Soundcloud”