Last year Nils Frahm released the sublime The Bells, a record that marked a rebirth for neo-classical music. This, his latest offering, and first with electro-hotshot Anne Müller, sees Frahm edging further down the path forged by the Richard D James, Tom Jenkinson et al.
A cello provides a haunting foil for Frahm’s fractured melodies. Tutored by a student of Tchaikovsky, there is a sense of history running through his records. While 7fingers might initially appear less epic, less cinematic than previous outings, there is something enduring underpinning the record – a collision of classical and contemporary that creates a tension fraught with energy. The intricacies of The Bells might be absent but here Frahm has more creative scope, as his compositions clash with the deadpan synths of Müller.
‘Teeth’ is the orchestral equivalent of Sonic Youth gone renegade; tortured strings resonate as Frahm and Muller tease each other in a clumsy rite of passage, nudging the listener to attention. As it segues into the shuffling rhythms of the title track, it becomes clear that this is an entirely different entity to Nils Frahm’s solo outings. Synthesised beats are swathed in strings and arpeggios as the track builds but the effect isn’t beautiful, it is nauseating. This is the equivalent of Alex’s treatment in Stanley Kubrick’s _A Clockwork Orange_, his lovely lovely Ludwig Van draped in velveteen electronic violence creating a startling if alluring effect. Fractured melodies seep into the jittering electronica of Müller’s youth, while Frahm’s elegiac verses struggle against rolling synths and relentless beats.
‘Let Me Be Key C’ could soundtrack a million returns from the abyss. It is tense, but comforting with familiarity. Cellos play in rounds facing each other like the teeth of a blunted saw. In fact it's not until ‘Reminds to Teeth’ that the fragile brilliance of Frahm’s day job begins to become apparent. This is not Thom Yorke’s wet dream, there is substance behind the sleek exterior. There is something fresh here: Frahm’s sketches are fleshed out by Muller’s electro heritage – beats and synths crawl across the strings morphing them into something much bigger, brighter than the sum of its parts.
‘Because This Must Be/Augmentation’ is built around snatches of foreign conversation, woven between strings that swing from a moody edginess towards a swooping beautiful before fading leaving the sounds of irate strangers rattling round yr skull. From the strings comes a haunted, if slick, vocal pitched midway between unfashionable Nordic types Royksopp and the jittering of Yorke himself.
The rapidly changing directions are perfected on ‘Journey for a Traveller’ which sees Frahm and Muller’s parts woven effortlessly as the track meanders from electronica to neo-classical before settling soundly on the Aphex side of the fence.
Each track teeters on the brink of... something, though it’s not clear what. Tense strings flirt with synths and Frahm’s melancholy melodies to create a record of fractured beauty. It’s neither rabble rousing nor soul soothing but somewhere between the two it fits perfectly; a worthwhile venture, then.
7Will Metcalfe's Score