If you have experienced a Nils Frahm live show, you will know the encore section is where he really lets himself go. Drawing on instinct, he is able to combine music of inner energy with shorter, plaintive piano works, each complementing the other.
So it is with this All Encores release, a compilation of three EPs Frahm has released since June last year. The pieces vary wildly, from brief postcard-sized miniatures such as Artificially Intelligent and The Dane to the sprawling, trancey numbers Spells and All Armed.
Despite the experimental angles, Frahm remains true to his style. The first pieces are especially intimate, and the plaintive, folk-inflected The Roughest Trade and To Thomas have a deeply personal feel. The latter is like a Chopin outtake, with its softly undulating accompaniment to the main melody.
The music is shot through with melancholy, especially the expanded and texturally fascinating Harmonium In The Well. This sorrowful piece becomes progressively mellower as it progresses, as the instrument sinks slowly into a recess. Frahm uses the unique timbre to create music of rich ambience, the chords slowly shifting and stretching the instrument as we would expect to hear it.
Generally the expanded structures work the best. Spells is the first of three substantial pieces, its notes dancing in the half light. All Armed is much more propulsive, Frahm utilising an army of percussion but keeping a long, arcing melodic presence above. Amirador makes a suitable conclusion, a brooding track based on a long breathed four note melody that pauses at the end of each statement, effectively a re-enactment of an ancient Gregorian chant in electronic form. Its fade at the end is so gradual the listener is hoodwinked into thinking the music has disappeared long before it actually does.
The shorter piano pieces have a soft-shelled ambience. Sweet Little Lie and A Walking Embrace are two of these, the latter employing softly oscillating figures that take place over what sounds like a crackling fire.
Encores is a clear illustration of Nils Frahm’s ability to work both in small and large structures, with plaintive piano nuggets and broad electronic canvases enjoying their proximity. It’s also a powerful demonstration of his live art, and a valuable addition to his discography. Now he has shown he can work with larger structures, it will be interesting to see if future works head that way too.