Review: Nils Frahm – Felt

Upon first hearing Felt, I’d presumed that the title was to be taken as the past-tense verb form of “feel”. The album places heavy focus on the mechanism through which each piano note is born, with melodies surrounded by the amplified clunk and click as downward pressure on keys become jerks of hammer swing; each note is rendered intimate and important by the sense of intent that takes Frahm’s playing through its process and into its desired outcome. Every melody can be sensed; can be “felt”.

In fact, the root explanation (which was perhaps intended to be malleable and interpreted as above; who knows) was much simpler and more literal than this.  Frahm had taken to placing a layer of felt above the piano strings in order to muffle his playing so as not to wake the neighbours during the night. Felt was born out of his newfound love for the warm, damp sound that resulted. What we have here are several tracks that revolve around spiralling melodic repetitions with chords shifting from beneath (a la Steve Reich), and several more that trade in the harmonic complexity to let the piano wallow by itself in rather mushy (but undeniably affecting) romance. In terms of composition, the songs are pretty enough – flowing between chords as a helpless monologue of unrequitement, occasionally fluttering in arpeggiated sequences, but often hovering over the mournful decay of each chord as if taking some sort of miserable gratification out of their slow deaths.

But what is most remarkable about Felt is the way in which the aforementioned mechanism clunks – a surprisingly prominent feature as points – don’t become an intolerable gimmick as the album progresses. In fact, they separate from the piano itself to become a warm and unwieldy form of percussion, leaving the actual notes to feel like glacial glimmers free of any attack, sparked magically out of nothing. There’s nothing new about conveying intimacy and organic qualities through an album’s production, but there’s something particularly clever and well judged about the execution here – everything from the recording of the piano itself through to those nasal intakes of breath that mark Frahm’s mental preparation from the piece ahead.