- Nils Frahm straddles a few musical worlds. The Berlin artist has released star-gazing synth epics ("For"), intimate solo piano pieces (Screws) and plenty in between, and he does it all pretty well. His live show lays bare the sheer scope of his work: he's usually got at least three pianos, plus an array of synths and other gadgets. These performances often show the true breadth of his talent in a way his individual records can't. Spaces is here to fix that problem. It's a welcome compilation of live recordings from the past two years, collecting snapshots of him in different moods at different concerts. Over almost 80 minutes, we hear everything from climactic synth crescendoes to plaintive, whisper-quiet ballads. Spaces, in other words, is the wide-ranging sampler Frahm has needed all along.
As with much of the Erased Tapes roster, Frahm's allure is his directness. His compositions touch an emotional nerve, and his take on modern classical is accessible—you don't need a music degree to appreciate it. He often dabbles in electronics, further emboldening his delicate compositions. After a brief and dubby intro, Spaces opens with "Says," where Frahm balances a meek piano figure over a rippling puddle of synth. Repeating methodically over eight minutes, it's definitively electronic, but after it slips into a searing climax, his increasingly frenzied banging on the ivories becomes a key human element. "For," meanwhile—easily Frahm's most well-known song—becomes a 17-minute suite where its chords melt into something more ambient, before the composer's quick fingers pick out an anxious melody on electric piano that recalls early '70s Pink Floyd in its blues-informed pomp.
The other half of Spaces mostly consists of sparser piano pieces that stand up remarkably well to their showier counterparts. The nine-minute "Said And Done," a majestic piece that feels like it's moving in slow-motion, nicely showcases his dexterity. The "Unter/Tistana/Ambre" suite demonstrates a fantastic grasp of volume, texture and dynamics, and includes some of Frahm's most tender playing. "Improvisation For Coughs And A Cell Phone," which loops and manipulates ambient noise, reveals a bit of a musique concrète streak.
All of this might be a lot to absorb in one listen, but use your imagination and the record flows like one continuous performance. Spaces is marked by Frahm's unabashed sentimentality, an earnestness that works in his favour more often than not. And then there's the matter of the recording: echoing out into, yes, spaces, Frahm's music takes on an even grander quality—these very much sound like live performances, and they're all the better for it. Short of seeing him in concert, Spaces is as close as you'll get to hearing Frahm at his best.
01. An Aborted Beginning
03. Said And Done
04. Went Missing
06. Improvisation For Coughs And A Cell Phone
08. For - Peter - Toilet Brushes - More
09. Over There, It's Raining
10. Unter - Tristana - Amber
11. Ross' Harmonium
12. Me (Digital Bonus Track)