Grandbrothers are a musical duo that create music from one instrument – the piano. They’re not both pianists however and that provides a helpful opening context to understanding their sound. Erol Sarp is the pianist in the pairing yet his musical partner Lukas Vogel is an engineer/programmer/ designer who manipulates the sounds of the piano via his laptop to add an extra, wrong-footing dimension to their music.
They released their debut album Dilation back in 2015 and while that record introduced a sound that largely remains unaltered, second album Open features a significant amount of fine-tuning and finessing and as a result sees them operating at a markedly higher level.
Early moments on Open recall the work of German prepared piano master Hauschka. His influence is present on opening track 1202, which sets out the sound that will flow through the album. The minimalism that begins that track gradually expands until what it takes on an almost industrial feel, cogs rotating and components interacting to give the impression of densely layered, illusory electronica.
The beautifully clean and crisp piano sounds associated with Erased Tapes acts like Nils Frahm and Lubomyr Melnyk are to the fore on Bloodflow. It’s a wonderfully evocative and accessible piece and is eminently well-suited to soundtracking visual images. The detailed background programming results in the track possessing an enjoyable multiplicity – the internal workings of the piano are exposed but the pure, natural beauty is never compromised. Following track From A Distance meanwhile is a far more delicate proposition with a moving, fragile veneer. It is an idea that is successfully revisited later on during Circonflexe.
Later, Honey will step forward to rightly take its place as the most overtly poignant and perfectly realised track on the album. It matches the deeply human qualities found on the recent albums by genre-leader Eluvium, plotting out a ravishingly emotive piano ascent which is gradually encircled by electronic winds, recalling latter period Mogwai. It also places them close to Penguin Cafe when they leave their idiosyncrasies to one side and focus purely on the piano.
Alice is another beautifully eloquent track, all simplicity and concision, and one that Yann Tiersen must desperately wish he had written while in his piano phase. White Nights is arguably the most musically interesting piece on Open and one which shows that the above musical comparisons are maybe a little unfair. It is spacious with expanded structures, dense arpeggio-like piano runs and enlivening percussion that drives it over the finish line in highly original fashion.
Earlier, Long Forgotten Future struck a not dissimilar note, built around a channelled momentum but equally demonstrating their innate melodicism. This is arguably Grandbrothers’ biggest strength and one which they exploit remarkably well on Open. The growth in popularity of the likes of Nils Frahm over recent years shows there’s a demand for this kind of music – Open is an album that deserves to elevate Grandbrothers to this level and to a much broader audience.