One of the best albums of 2013.
Firstly: it’s not really a live album. There are audience applauses sprinkled throughout, but they’re hardly intrusive to the whole listening experience (I’ve read a complaint like this somewhere) and you couldn’t get “Improvisation for Coughs and a Cell Phone” – wherein Frahm literally improvises with audience additions of coughs and eventually, the ringing of a cell phone, and, according to the liner notes, responsible for the start of the entire project – any other way. The man himself calls it “[more] of a field recording than a live record,” so let’s go with that.
Secondly: it’s not perfect. At almost 80 minutes in length, it’s a little exhausting to get through. “Ross’s Harmonium” is proof that Nils Frahm can do the same things on a harmonium that he can a piano or synthesizer – except no one asked. Meanwhile, there’s nothing that “Went Missing” does that “Over There, It’s Raining” does and doesn’t do better, straight down to the tape hiss that makes it sound like rain. I think it was a bad idea that “Said and Done” – wherein Frahm spends 8 minutes hammering the same note ‘til kingdom come – has been extended to the 10-minute beast is it now (I’ve read that there’s a version where it’s in a more compact 3-minute form); the middle stretch could have been shortened by a couple of minutes – almost as if Frahm forgot what was supposed to come next so he lingers without adding anything. Finally, while I was impressed by “For – Peter – Toilet Brushes – More” the first time I heard it because it’s a song that’s so obviously its individual parts and works regardless as a holistic listening experience (whereas it’s hard to break “Unter – Tristana – Ambre” up, even though they were separate pieces before – see Wintermusik), more and more I find myself just wishing he started at “Toilet Brushes” (as he has done elsewhere) since the slabs of synths used for “For” are unfortunately cheesy, like he found them in a crate of leftovers from the 70s.
To the good stuff, then. The sampled beat of “An Aborted Beginning” belies what’s to come but because of how loud they are, makes it a good opener anyway. Whereas “Said and Done” had Frahm hammering away at one note, “Hammers” has him going at a whole chord, arpeggiated in a feverish pace, and whereas I’m sometimes annoyed by Glenn Gould’s penchant for humming along, Frahm, who sounds like he’s in a complete trance, manages to introduce a new melody by doing so. Like “Improvisations for Coughs and a Cell Phone,” “Toilet Brushes” is exactly what the title is – Frahm beating away at the inside of a piano with a set of toilet brushes, and what’s amazing is that when he continues the rhythm on the piano proper, the shift isn’t noticeable until it’s already happened (which is a quality that happens often in this album, now that I think about it – crescendos and song shifts that you realize you’ve entered only upon entering). Whereas he emulated Keith Jarrett-styled jazz on “Improvisations,” the neo-romanticisms of “Over There, It’s Raining” (which should have closed the album) and “Unter – Tristana – Ambre” on the other half of the album do best to demonstrate Frahm’s ability to play in other genres and both put his melodic prowess to the forefront.
The greatest draw though, is “Says.” Anyone who likes meditative minimalism or post-rock crescendos or has ever wanted to hear a minimalistic piece being filtered through a more engaging climax than post-rock has ever managed needs to listen to it immediately. Rain falling on a warm day and two lovers caught in it – everything they wanted to say to each other in person through the difficult past year of long-term relationship drama being said through kisses.