Nils Frahm (Photo: Alexander Schneider); George Evelyn, a.k.a. Nightmares On Wax (Photo: Courtesy of Paradigm); and Johannes Andersson of Tribulation (Photo: Esther Segarra)

Nils Frahm reaches exciting new dimensions on All Melody, while No Age go bigger and brighter than ever on Snares Like A Haircut. These, plus Tribulation and Nightmares On Wax in this week’s notable new releases.


Nils Frahm, All Melody

[Erased Tapes]
Grade: A-

The first sounds you hear on All Melody—after the echo of approaching footsteps, anyway—are female voices joining in wordless harmony over a low humming pipe organ. It’s not exactly subversive stuff, but for the German composer Nils Frahm, it’s practically Dylan going electric. Like his buddy Ólafur Arnalds, Frahm has built a lovely body of work largely out of melding synthesizer loops with classical piano. Unlike Arnalds, he’s mostly shied away from singers, even saying he’d never work with one under his own name. But all constraints are off for All Melody, a vibrant, exploratory album born from Frahm’s newly constructed Berlin studio and the freedom to experiment it allowed. Thus, heavenly choirs illuminate opener “The Whole Universe Wants To Be Touched” and lend drama to the percolating anxiety of “A Place”; touches of smoky brass color the world-weary jazz of “Human Range”; and an actual, genuine drumbeat drives “Sunson.” It’s another beautifully immersive listen—the audible snuffling and clacking keys on sister tracks “My Friend The Forest” and “Forever Changeless” are like you’re sitting on Frahm’s piano bench—but one that branches out into some exciting new dimensions.

RIYL: Ólafur Arnalds. Max Richter. Harold Budd. Arvo Pärt. Snowy winters. Morning coffee. Ruminating.

Start here: “Sunson” best captures the scope of All Melody’s ambitions, with slow glacial swells giving way to its trance-y, exotica-flavored midsection of subtle beats and cascading synth plucks. [Sean O’Neal]


No Age, Snares Like A Haircut

[Drag City]
Grade: B+

Where 2013’s experimental No Object saw No Age seemingly rebelling against and deconstructing its drone-punk sound after six busy years of honing it, Snares Like A Haircut finds Dean Spunt and Randy Randall making a warm, self-assured reunion, with each other and that scene-leading musical style. But rather than retreading the duo’s winning formula of ruthless hooks, primitive drums, and guitars looped into endless strata, Snares makes it bigger, brighter, and more polished than ever. The dreamy, ambient leanings that took center stage on the band’s most downtempo tracks pour over into all of Snares, providing even more body beneath Randall’s infinitesimal riffing. And while it lacks the power No Age found in the DIY rawness of its earliest material, the album’s confidence—made manifest in lyrics like “Maybe this is progress, maybe it’s not, but it’s not for you to say” from head-spinning rocker “Soft Collar Fad” and Spunt’s atypically emotional vocals on the shockingly balladic “Send Me”—craft, and poise is enchanting in a whole new way.

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RIYL: Deerhunter. The Men. No Age’s gentler side.

Start here: Coming after three brawny, rocking tracks, “Send Me,” with its shimmering atmospherics and a (relatively) emotional vocal performance from Spunt, is Snares’ first big hint that this is a different No Age. [Matt Gerardi]


Tribulation, Down Below

[Century Media]
Grade: B+

The Byronic piss-and-vinegar dandies of Tribulation have always defied conventional wisdom on how an “extreme” metal band is supposed to look, sound, and dress. On their unapologetically theatrical fourth LP, the adventurous Swedes abandon any pretense of playing to the purists and really get in touch with their inner Vincent Price, amplifying the costume-party affectation, haunted-house lounge piano, and romantic (and Romantic) swell of 2015’s The Children Of The Night. Down Below brims with unlikely callbacks and shout-outs: “Cries From The Underworld” flips the tinkle-and-crunch of Between The Buried And Me’s “Extremophile Elite” from sci-fi to horror, while the piano introduction of “Subterranea” suggests the band has taken up residence in the sprawling Gothic mansion where Bonnie Tyler lamented her total eclipse of the heart. Meanwhile, the blasphemously pretty instrumental “Purgatorio” sounds like some lost love theme from a Tim Burton misfit romance. The title and lyrics suggest an inferno worthy of Dante, but music this simultaneously hooky and heavy could only have been concocted north of hell.

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RIYL: Halloween. Sweeney Todd. Graveyard smashes of all varieties.

Start here: “Nightbound” rips. [A.A. Dowd]


Nightmares On Wax, Shape The Future

[Warp]
Grade: C

The first album in six years from downtempo mainstay Nightmares On Wax opens with a spoken-word monologue from shaman Kuauhtli Vasquez, who intones meditative maxims like “All humans share one consciousness” over some prayerful muttering by an indigenous Mexican tribe. Across the Warp veteran’s 25-year run—and particularly since it became the sole concern of producer George Evelyn—it’s flirted with such head-shop profundity, but Shape The Future is its most directly sermonizing yet, an ayahuasca retreat in the chill-out tent. The songs are teeming with similarly self-actualizing messages about One Love, good vibrations, and living in the moment, unfurling over the kind of blissed-out, sofa-bound soul that Evelyn began plying around 1995’s aptly named Smokers Delight, with occasional detours into dub, spaced-out funk, and cosmic jazz. As usual, Evelyn creates a relentlessly positive vibe that’s pleasantly intoxicating, but so pristinely composed as to never risk riling the coffee shop. (Even “Citizen Kane”—which appears twice in original and “Rap Version”—keeps Allan Kingdom’s verse about poundin’ bitches on the latter so rapid-fire, it’s over before you realize what he’s saying.) Still, with so much New Age nattering, here more than ever your enjoyment will depend on your own zeal for enlightenment and/or bong rips.

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RIYL: Drugs.

Start here: Evelyn still does his best work shaping his sound to fit his guests, like his reunion with Mind Elevation standout LSK on the reggae-fied “Tomorrow” or especially “Typical,” where he gives soul singer Jordan Rakei’s sultry voice an appropriate torch-song burn. [Sean O’Neal]


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