Nils Frahm - Screws - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Nils Frahm - Screws

by Daryl Worthington Rating:8 Release Date:2012-12-03

Anyone at the Erased Tapes anniversary show in Hackney earlier this year would have witnessed a mesmerising set by Nils Frahm. The pianist effortlessly jumped through ideas and styles, starting the concert playing the piano strings with soft beaters as if it was a percussion instrument, he progressed through epic synth odysseys, heartbreaking minimalist pieces and Lubomyr Melnyk-style arpeggio journeys, all interspersed with his wry humour and endearing anecdotes. The startling thing about all this was that Frahm was performing with a broken thumb.

Screws is focused around the more introspective and minimalist side of Frahm's music. It was written and recorded in his home studio as he begun his recovery from the previously mentioned broken thumb (sustained by falling out of his bed in said home studio!) and released as a free download from his website. The songs were recorded despite his temporary disability, but in many ways the story is still crucial to understanding the album. These songs are written as a response to the frustration to his injury, and are part of the story of Frahm's recuperation.

From the start, one of the most startling things about this album is how intimate it sounds. Underneath the soft twinkling keys of 'You', one can actually hear the creaking wood of Frahms piano. It's almost like Frahm is sitting in the room, playing the piece live for our pleasure.

At other points in the album, the only accompaniment to Frahm's lonely piano is the warm hiss and static of the recording device he used. It's like Frahm has handed over a tape of something straight from the recorder, without any attempts to edit or master it. On his website when releasing this album, Frahm refers to it as a gift, and the intimacy of the recordings adds to the personal feel of the album.

The pieces all have an underlying sadness to them, but never sink into being depressive. 'Sol', with its wandering bass notes and hesitant, almost ramshackle melodic fragments, sounds like it could be Frahm stumbling around the keys, adjusting to playing with a missing digit. This could be taken as a criticism of the piece but it's not. Rather, it further humanises the whole album, giving a sense of the joy at making music in the face of forced limitations.

Much like the rest of Frahm's work, his restraint and use of silences is crucial. The space between notes allows each piece to breathe, and the notes which are played have a greater impact. The listener can hear and feel every aspect of their tone and texture. On 'La', every small variation and flourish is striking in its clarity. Every chiming run across the keys pulls the listener further and further in. When the album closes, the shock of the sudden silence highlights just how absorbed one has become in the album, how captivating one man and a piano can be.

Screws doesn't have the dynamic variety or complexity of Frahm's career highlight, last year's Felt album. However, listen to this album in a dark room, late at night, and you'll be amazed just how quickly you can become completely immersed in it.

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