REVIEW: Trance Frendz by Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm

by Maggie Molloy

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Some people like to go out on Friday nights. Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm like to stay in and make music.

Though both are prominent composers, pianists, producers, and performers in the new music world, they prefer to spend their evenings off creating, well, even more music. I guess you could say they’re more than just musical collaborators—they’re best friends. Or rather, best “frendz.”

“Trance Frendz” is the title of the pair’s newest set (the term “album” is firmly rejected by both Frahm and Arnalds), which features music from an evening of improvisation at Berlin’s Durton Studio. It began as a video session of the two performing an improvised duo, in promotion of a different album titled “Collaborative Works: An Evening with Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm.”

But instead of ending the session after the first take, the two continued to improvise throughout the night, ending up with a number of new pieces written and recorded on the fly, with no overdubs and no edits.

What started as a short promo video quickly turned into a 45-minute studio film titled “Trance Frendz,” and the music was included as a second disc in their “Collaborative Works” album.

And now, “Trance Frendz” has officially been released as its own separate CD and vinyl.

Each piece in the set is named after the time in the night when it emerged, with the mood clearly modulating throughout the hours. And yet, the pieces all blur together, unified by the relaxed mood, organic movement, striking intimacy, and genuine honesty behind each one.

“We meet because we’re buddies and we’ve known each other for a long time,” Frahm said in an interview with the Boiler Room. “We eat pizza, drink some beers, stay up way too long and try new things for fun. Everything that we put out is basically just a byproduct of us spending time together and geeking out on music.”

The improvisations are slow-moving and patient, at first led primarily by twinkling piano melodies. But as the night wears on, the delicate piano motives gradually expand to feature growling organ basslines, rumbling drones, and some serious synth.

As the pair continues wandering into the early hours of the morning, the shimmering hum of the piano returns to the forefront with a series of whimsical music-box-worthy melodies, complimented by sweet, subtle vocal humming atop the creaking of antique piano lids and tape recorders. The set comes to a close with soft, hazy piano melodies sparkling amidst a nocturnal calm.

“This music is not the most catchy, not the most hit-you-in-the-face festival-kicking song of the year, or a declaration of: ‘Look at me. Watch how great I am,’” Frahm said. “It unfolds over time, is a little more rich—and I like that kind of humbleness about it.”

It’s the perfect soundtrack for a quiet night in with a friend—charming, sincere, organic, and ambient.

“Ultimately, the fun is in there,” Arnalds said. “The video is a testament to that. It’s in those sessions, in the recordings, and in our friendship.”

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