Some things are best slightly out of context. I often prefer Cory Doctorow’s young adult novels, as if the (relative) absence of sex and the more compact scope serve to clip his more effusive tendencies. I generally prefer, with a few exceptions, Grant Morrison’s work-for-hire comics, sensing that the internal corporate-publishing politics of continuity management rein in an imagination that can veer toward the profligate. I think Lily Tomlin’s best performance in years was her role on Damages, a legal thriller where all her expert comic timing was forced into a claustrophobic, often bitter dramatic role.
And I think Nils Frahm responds particularly well to the challenge of working with others. He’s best known as an improvising, neo-classical, ambient-piano solo artist, but between last year’s Loon, a spectacularly refined EP of glitchy atmospherics he made with Ã“lafur Arnalds for the Erased Tapes label, and a new recording as part of the trio Nonkeen, he’s showing that he’s far more than a soloist. Nonkeen teems him with two longtime friends, Frederic Gmeiner and Sebastian Singwald, with support from percussionist Andrea Belfi. The album is titled The Gamble, and after an opening track of synthesized orchestral grandeur it lingers in a kind of offworld exotica, a mix of light electronic textures and high-tone lounge-ready jazz touches.
One highlight is the track “Saddest Continent on Earth,” which mixes taut, melancholic electric guitar with a droning haze of a sonic foundation, Frahm’s electric piano little more than a series of elegiac chords. The guitar is so compressed that it sounds at times like it’s cutting in and out, flickering like a neon sign. The guitar and the keyboard merge perfectly, meeting halfway with a sad, sharp, sour tone. Throughout is the thick whir of a field recording, grounding their ethereal practice in the everyday.
(Side note: I think this is the first time I’ve ever used a Spotify embed in post on Disquiet.com. If the embed doesn’t work for you, the track is also on YouTube.)