More than perhaps any other aspect of music, melody is what captures our hearts and gets stuck in our heads. Be it classical, jazz, pop, or rock—nearly all styles of Western music hold melody to be paramount.
Simple in theory but endlessly expansive in its possibilities, melody is at the heart of Nils Frahm’s newest album, out now on the Erased Tapes label. It is a collection of 12 songs in which not only all the music but also the entire recording space were created in service of that greatest musical jewel: melody.
All Melody is Frahm’s ninth solo album, featuring the composer himself on his usual keyboard collection of pianos, synthesizers, and pipe organs—but here expanded to feature an ethereal choir of vocalists along with subtle strings and percussion. The album was recorded in the historical East German Funkhaus, a 1950s recording complex where Frahm spent the past two years renovating a studio with hand-crafted and hand-picked studio gear, including a custom mixing console.
The album itself is an ambient mix of minimalist melodies, mid-tempo dance grooves, and broad, synth-laden washes of sound. Though each song is expertly crafted in iridescent detail, the individual pieces also fit together into a larger whole, the album unified in its wistful melodies and muted colors.
Wordless vocals from the chamber choir Shards sing the first melody of the album in the atmospheric overture “The Whole Universe Wants to Be Touched.” Floating atop the whispering bellows of an organ, the choir intones a circling theme that beckons the listener into musical hypnosis. Pieces like “Sunson” and “A Place” feature more groove-oriented melodies, each its own intricately textured overlay of synth sounds and drum machines embellished with subtle strings, mellow percussion, and ambient vocals.
Other melodies on the album hint toward jazz in their poignant dissonances and wandering discoveries. Tunes like “My Friend the Forest” and “Forever Changeless” are intimate piano lullabies punctuated by the soft stir of the piano hammers and the gentle resonances of a bass marimba. A metallic trumpet melody weaves through an atmospheric trance in “Human Range,” while “Fundamental Values” paints a liquid wash of piano melodies swimming in a whisper of cello and bass marimba.
The album’s title track is an endless melody swirling through ever-transforming musical textures, infectious in its pulse and hypnotic in its repetitions. Equally mesmerizing is the relentless rhythm of “#2,” decorated with clipped choral melodies, synthesizers, and percussion. It’s followed by “Momentum,” a piece which echoes with the solace and solemnity of a church hymn, the choir and organ blending together into an expansive soundscape before eventually giving way to a slow and steady groove.
The aptly titled “Kaleidoscope” layers many, many melodies into dense clouds of sound, the distinctive details of each just waiting to be discovered with each additional listen. It’s contrasted against the album’s closing piece “Harm Hymn,” a gorgeously simple harmonic progression that brings melody back to its most basic form.
It’s a tenderness felt throughout the entire album, wrapped up in the immersive soundscapes and melodic orbits of each and every piece. Yet there’s something so vital and nuanced about that closing track—with each quiet, measured breath of the harmonium we’re reminded of both the simple pleasure and the intimate perfection of a good melody.