- On their third LP, Frahm and Blumm explore the outer realms where dub, classical and country meet.
- Nils Frahm is a singular figure in contemporary electronic music. As Tony Naylor put it in 2015, he's just as likely to be "playing solo piano pieces to the ravers and prickly techno at the Royal Albert Hall." But on the records that he makes with F.S. Blumm, he trades the emotional gravitas of his solo work for playfulness and curiosity. Their first two releases, Music for Lovers, Music Versus Time and Music For Wobbling Music Versus Gravity, were lovely introductions, as we heard the duo stumble on a melody or groove and then transform it with studio wizardry and found sounds (everything from crumpling paper to door springs). On 2016's Tag Eins Tag Zwei, the pair settled into a comfortable—and fused—sound, where Blumm's country-informed guitar danced over Frahm's keys. 2X1=4, their latest LP, is a totally different beast, as the pair touch on something equal parts country and dub, wrapping their acoustic instrumentation in the dense warping of dub and echo.
These tracks are finicky and complicated, which might have something to do with when they were recorded: work started in 2016, giving the producers five years to fiddle with the music. (As Andrew Ryce pointed out, it "[sounds] like each artist tried to pull it in about 100 different directions.") This isn't a bad thing, because this obsessive tinkering allows new textures and ideas to burst through the seams, making for plenty of head-turning surprises. Take "Presidential Tub." Blumm's finger-picked melody has the country swagger of the best moments from their previous records. Here, however, the melody is pulled apart amid a wash of delay and turned into smudged chords that float across the stereo field like the trail of a comet in the sky.
What does remain consistent between 2X1=4 and the duo's earlier records is Blumm's guitar playing. "Buddy Hop" is about as lovely a serenade as you'll hear, with rich, syrupy guitar work that reminds me of Dave Harrington's work with DARKSIDE. Blumm is not limited to country twang: he lets 'er rip on a captivating guitar solo in "Neckrub," and on "Raw Chef," the reggae guitar chords duet with another earworm of a lead that you'd be happy to hear looped for an hour or two. That is, before Frahm takes the bottom out transforming the song into murky dub minestrone.
The shift to dub feels like a natural progression. Blumm put out some marvelously bizarre reggae and dancehall in the group Quasi Dub Development in the early 2010s (their last album even featured the late, great Lee "Scratch" Perry). Frahm, meanwhile, is a fan of dub's many descendents—he's described drum & bass and trip-hop as some of his earliest musical favorites, and you can hear a certain UK influence in the 13-minute opus, "Sarah & Eve," where the drums have an edgy stutter and the strings' vibrato sigh with a forlorn early '90s Bristol feel.
2X1=4 is Blumm and Frahm's best record because it captures how much fun the duo have recording together. Sure, there's a lonesome-on-the-prairie vibe to the melody on "Desert Mule," but it's hard not to start grooving along with its staggering drums. As Frahm himself explains, "None of this is too serious. The record is only as much of a dub record as the ones before are jazz records." In not taking themselves too seriously, Frahm and Blumm shine as sparring partners, tapping into dub to expand their growing universe.
01. Desert Mule
02. Presidential Tub
03. Puddle Drop
04. Buddy Hop
05. Sarah & Eve
06. Raw Chef