If you've heard or read anything about Felt, the latest album by Berlin-based pianist Nils Frahm, you're by now probably aware that he recorded it late during the quiet of the night in his studio and that, out of consideration for his neighbours, he dampened his piano by layering thick felt in front of its strings and playing with even more gentleness than is his usual custom. You might also know that he positioned the microphones so deeply inside the piano they were almost touching the strings. As a result, certain sounds, such as his own breathing and the ambient scrapes and creaks produced by the instrument and wooden floorboards, are amplified even more than usual and take their place within the recording's fabric. That he's chosen a word connoting intimacy and emotion for the album title seems entirely fitting in light of the aural evidence. In one sense, Frahm's music hasn't changed from the delicate material he gave us on his previously issued solo piano works Wintermusik and The Bells, as Felt's neo-classical settings are as refined, melodic, melancholy, contemplative, and tender as the ones on those superb outings.
Like the rapid pitter-patter of raindrops striking a hard surface, “Keep” unfolds in sparkling waves of animated tinkles and marimba-like prcussive patterns. In the three-minute wonderland, Frahm becomes a one-man band that simulates a Steve Reich ensemble or So Percussion. The tempo dramatically slows in the following piece, “Less,” and in the later “Pause,” where oceanic pauses between the piano chords allow for the myriad ambient noises to loudly declare themselves—but not so much that they displace one's attention from the loveliness of the becalmed mood pieces in question. As always with Frahm's recordings, there are moments of hushed beauty such as “Snippet” that in their own quietly powerful way can take one's breath away. The closing “More” brings the recording full circle by revisiting the motorik pulsations of “Keep” in a track that if anything intensifies the buoyant thrust of the opener—until, that is, the rhythms drop away halfway through and the album eases itself out on a once-again reflective note.“Unter,” in particular, is invaded by the presence of non-musical elements. Frahm's playing abruptly stops midway through, and we're presented with an array of scrapes, whistling, crackle, conversation, and other real-world noises, before the wistful ruminations of “Old Thought” take their place. In this sonically enriched setting, glockenspiel- and marimba-like tinkles accompany Frahm's pensive piano patterns, while near-subliminal swirls of electronic washes seem to rise in the background. Either Frahm has modified the timbre of the piano so radically that he's been able to make it simulate the sound of said instruments or he's supplemented the piano with small dashes of other instruments. Regardless, the album offers further evidence of Frahm's superior artistry, not that further evidence was necessarily needed given that we already have Wintermusik and The Bells to ably make the case on his behalf.