When songs are played live, they are in a constant state of transition, every note, beat or timbre is open to change, and over time it likely will, with a recording only being a starting point in a piece of music's lifespan. Nils Frahm seems to know this and has allowed his music to grow and continue to develop long after the albums they first appeared. His latest album Spaces is a live album, but not in the traditional sense, pieced together from years of performances but given the hindsight and care to detail of the recording that comes with a studio treatment. Spaces has allowed Frahm to capturing unique moments where everything comes together perfectly like it only can in a live setting, utilising unique sounds of the different venues he has played and showing how songs have evolved over time into something different from their original recordings.
Whilst sharing similarities with the other composers based around the Erased Tapes label like Ólafur Arnalds and A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Frahm has separated himself from other musicians in part due to his role as a technician or producer as well as composer but here more than ever, it's his musicianship laid bare in a hall before the audience. As a result Spaces lacks some of the sonic subtleties of his last album Felt, in which the background noise was almost as prominent as the piano, it is the performance, not the ambience, that is the highlight. It works because of the keen ear for a good melody that is always on show and which is what I suspect has made his music so approachable to many, even those who are unfamiliar with the classical world and comparable to Eric Satie's instantly recognisable work, who shares his knack for melody and mood.
Right off the bat Frahm alludes the mistakes and imperfections that that go hand in hand with live performances on the opening track An Aborted Beginning. It seems to fall apart, breaking into pieces over it's short duration, but still shows of a facet of Frahm that we doesn't often see as a beat, blanketed in reverb, stomps around synthesizer flourishes. One of the original pieces on the album, Says, features synthesizer arpeggios that wrap themselves around soft piano notes. It lets you sink in amongst the interweaving melodies that feel like cogs in an old clock working together, where each detail is necessary to create the whole. The track seems to lull you into its atmosphere before a chord sequence develops adding new elements until it's climactic and breathtaking peak.
Said and Done has become completely different from it's original state, propelled by its single note backbone, on which the rest of the tune is built, it grows in to an almost ten minute epic, reaching some unexpected intensity as you imagine Frahm striking at the keys with a rhythmic ferocity. On Hammers Frahm displays some impressive high tempo playing as the piece begins at a much quicker pace than the relaxed ambience of most of his work and it doesn't relent, making for a pleasantly chaotic change of pace. Familiar, originally from Felt, takes on a much fuller sound in the live setting, and lets it strong melody ring out all the clearer for it.
At over seventy minutes it feels more like a concert that you've sat through than just an album. Spaces' greatest weakness is that the album feels like it only really sticks to one tone. Even though it sees that tone taken through the whole dynamic range, Frahm rarely breaks out of his tuneful, melancholic compositions into something either darker or brighter.
Fans of Frahm's work can hear reinterpretations and widely developed versions of older tracks, most of which surpass the originals or just alter them enough to make them seem fresh and new There are also little snippets of humour, which is refreshing in the often cold world of classical music, with song titles like Toilet Brushes and Improvisation for Coughs and a Cell Phone adding something to the otherwise vague names, left to interpretation. Spaces still displays the work of a skilled craftsman who carefully builds his sonic sculptures layer by layer, and listening to the end product its hard not to be taken with the impressive work he has created.