John Lemke: Nomad Frequencies
Denovali Records

The ten instrumentals on Nomad Frequencies, Scottish-based Berliner John Lemke's full-length follow-up to 2013's People Do, encompass a broad array of styles, with the album's range intimated by the presence of genres as diametrically opposed as dub and ambient-classical. Certainly a strong cinematic strain runs through these tracks: with a swinging piano a primary impetus, the rhythmically insistent “Vessel” plays like Lemke's soundtrack submission for an espionage-styled European thriller, while the somewhat dub-drenched “To Let Go” is as visually suggestive as instrumental music gets. Indicative of the music's breadth, “The Unwinding” draws into its Hitchockian orbit ambient, classical, post-rock, and jazz (the latter thanks to Andrew Baker's saxophone playing)—and all of it in just seven minutes.

But Lemke isn't a paint-by-numbers kind of composer; instead, boundaries collapse between genres, resulting in mini-epics of ambitious reach. He comes to music of such wide-ranging type naturally, given his background as a sound designer and documentary film composer, and his realization of the project is aided considerably by the contributions of violist Kim Moore and Baker, who's credited with soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, and beach flute. The album isn't a purely acoustic instrument-based creation, however: analogue synthesizers, field recordings, and samples work their way into his constructions, with the composer generating his sample bank by applying contact microphones or hydrophones to objects and instruments, running them through assorted kinds of speakers, and then re-recording the results to give them a lived-in quality.

Still, if there's one style Nomad Frequencies gravitates towards more than any other, it's dub, though no one would ever think such a thing based on the opening setting, “Of Elsewhere,” a lovely, classical-styled meditation for piano and strings. Yet as the forty-eight-minute collection advances, dub elements repeatedly surface: “At the Dust Boutique” is an infectious dub workout Lemke sweetens with haunting melodic hooks; the laid-back “Passenger” is dub through and through; and the jaunty “Encounters” likewise has roots in the genre, even if its sax-inflected swing oozes a slightly inebriated quality, too.

The album didn't arrive without its share of complications. In the summer of 2014, Lemke had to abandon his Glasgow flat and studio due to structural damage and left with nothing more than clothes and his laptop. And with months of subsequent couch-surfing and a return to his old hometown of Berlin factored into the production of the album, it's easy to understand why Nomad Frequencies was eventually selected for the title.

October 2015