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 Ólafur 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

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