Nils Frahm

SOLO
Erased Tapes

What was most remarkable about Spaces, Nils Frahm’s last LP, was that it sounded like a studio album, right up to the moment that the audience broke into rapturous applause. It remains a strangely disconcerting experience to feel as though the solitude that an ambient or modern classical piece invariably accompanies has been a shared experience after all.

With Solo, his inaugural Piano Day gift to the world, the effect is almost uncomfortably intimate in contrast. Opening track ‘Ode’ sets the tone in what can only be described as an unfulfilled dialogue. Piano chords ring out, bright and clean, and then slowly fade, until the only sounds left are the shuffle of keys being released and Frahm’s breath in the microphone, awaiting a response that never arrives. ‘Merry’ also provides an early highlight, as the song’s breezy, lullaby beginnings render the minor key development later on all the more piercing.

The record’s gentle pace is shattered by ‘Wall’, a display of Frahm’s forte and a reminder that the specially designed Klevins 370 piano we hear throughout carries a formidable lower register. It is also the point at which you suspect he begins to lean more firmly on the improvisational style he is known for, as the compositions begin to loosen and extend. ‘Immerse!’ seems relatively devoid of ideas, and meanders along that way for nearly 11 minutes, though album closer ‘Four Hands’, all fluttering arpeggios and elegant chord changes, reminds us what considerable talent Frahm still has to offer.

Matthew Neale

Nils Frahm plays at Albert Hall on 24 May.

The Hipshakes

Sounds We Found / Maximum Growth and Vigour
Self released

When releasing two albums at once that were recorded six years apart, you’d expect to hear some big change and progression between them. With The Hipshakes it seems to be a different story. While I’m not one to complain, I could understand why some may tire quickly of the garage punk groove they’ve settled in.

The album from six years ago, Sounds We Found, kicks off with touches of The Damned, the music unashamedly rushed and ranty from the outset, highlighted in songs such as ‘I’m Alright’ and ‘I Hate Hipshakes’. The rough vocals and punk drums are good, the band seemingly as DIY as can be in this day and age. Beyond the beautifully surfy calm on ‘…’ and the folksy ‘Rovin’ Down The River’, the whole album seems to be a non-stop onslaught on woman troubles and apathy.

Maximum Growth and Vigour is much of the same, with Fall-esque post-punk tinges on songs like ‘What Makes You Act Like That’ and what sounds like a lean towards more standard modern rock than the previous effort throughout. I’d like to see them live and find out if they mix tunes from both of the albums and whether or not I’d notice.

They probably aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but they remind me of Parquet Courts and Mind Spiders, so that’s a definite gold star from me. I’d suggest checking them out if that sparks an interest.

Jacob Ormrod

Chuckz

Black Period EP
Room2 Records

Chuckz is one of the youngest MCs on Room2 Records, the Manchester label that continues to outdo itself, regularly showcasing a plethora of amazing rappers and producers. At 20 years old, he is already something of a veteran, regularly hosting club nights with his label mates and guesting on other tracks.

Last year’s debut, The Demo, had 19 tracks with as many collaborators, but the Black Period EP has just one set of producers (Duo Duo) at the controls, giving the music a more coherent feel. Chuckz also sounds more relaxed and less anxious to make an impression, which consequently creates a greater impact on this release.

The music is sublime. Jazz inflected samples (‘Swimming Pools’) and liquid dub basslines (‘Palomino’) augment Chuckz’ voice, a Manchester twang that is melodic and soulful when the choruses kick in. His lyrics have an Afro-centric focus that is rarely heard in British hip hop, a mixture of spirituality and defiance captured on ‘Intuition’: “And you can’t say that you’re fooling me / I saw through the lies through the eyes of / The young black African.”

At the start of the EP, ‘Avec Moi’ and ‘ByWard’ pose questions many young people face about their path in life and the influence of others on their decisions. By the end, Chuckz answers these questions on the chorus of ‘Watermelon’: “I think I should live”. The progression between his two recordings is impressive and the decisive end to this EP bodes well for Chuckz’ future output.

Nathan McIlroy

DAWGS

Are We Having a Good Time?
Self released

DAWGS is the moniker of Jamie Hammill, an award-winning art student and DIY musician who has just released his second EP, Are We Having a Good Time?

‘Nobody Cares’ opens proceedings with a few seconds of programmed drums, before dropping the type of anthemic chorus that galvanised a generation to keep dancing after their nose piercings were ripped out in the mosh pit. ‘Pockets Full of Stones’ keeps the adrenalin pumping for another minute and a half, recalling Guided By Voices at the height of their four-track fame.

For the title track and closing statement, ‘So I Went Home…’, Hammill makes better use of the production software at his disposal, with synths and samples giving another dimension to his modern madcap pop. ‘Black Coat, Black Hat’ was inspired by William Faulkner’s novel Sanctuary and sees Hammill re-imagine the fallout of a hellish moonshine hangover before the catchy refrain of “Popeye’s going into the temple” batters your eardrums.

What makes Hammill stand out amongst the current crop of lo-fi revivalists is his mastery of writing eccentrically unique songs and self-produce them above demo standard. That isn’t to say the music loses any youthful vigour – far from it. Punching in at less than 15 minutes, these five tracks are as varied as they are direct and the absence of any filler warrants repeated listens, promising a better time than a bloated LP.

Nathan McIlroy