Nils Frahm and his crystalline clavier had a kind of a breakthrough in 2009 with The Bells, so thoughtfully arranged though entirely improvised, and theyÂ´ve been garnering friends, admirers, and well-wishers ever since.
A professional studio engineer, the Berlin-based Frahm knows sound. He has an uncanny knack for being warm and welcoming while slyly experimental. On Felt, he pieces together the “open fragments” of unfinished ideas into a seamless whole. The uplifting ‘Keep’, a Christmas carillon Ã¡ la Philip Glass, rushing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh, opens the album with brio. It breezes by at such a clip that you really only notice the special conceit that gave the album its name with advent the second track – playing his piano as quietly as he could, dampening each note by lining it with pieces of felt, creating a buffer between hammer and string. To capture every nuance of sound, he placed microphones inside the piano, which had the additional consequence of picking up every little creak and groan the instrument gave off, as well as the sound of Frahm’s own breath as he exerts himself at the keyboard.
For decades, music critics have mentioned the uniqueness of Glenn Gould’s studio recordings – though a stickler for detail, he would sing and hum along with his playing, and never even considered “cleaning up” the final masters. As with Gould, the result is a bald, intimate portrait of a man absorbed in his music. Much more than just a solo piano recital, Frahm also burnishes the surface or distresses the edges of his notes with brief, subtle electronics, accompanies himself on glockenspiel, whistles a tune distractedly to himself, and begins ‘Old Thought’s on harmonium before switching to the piano. Being invited in so close is actually a bit intimidating, but Frahm’s melodies are so enchanting the listener slides in even nearer.
Speaking softly, all the more to say.