The story behind nonkeen goes all the way back to the end of the Cold War. In 1989 Sebastien Singwald left communist controlled East Berlin for rural Hamburg in democratic West Germany on a two week sports exchange trip. Two of Singwald’s host students became interested in the large tape recorder that he was carrying around his neck and from this a lifelong friendship was born. One student was Frederic Gmeiner, and the other was the now world famous Nils Frahm, known for his creative blend of classical and electronic music.
The three of them began recording regularly together, everything from the sounds of the playground, to radio shows, to practising their instruments. During their teens the trio began playing live concerts at a fairground during the summer until an accident involving a broken carousel saw two passengers come crashing into the stage. With their instruments broken, the boys put an end to their childhood collaboration and went their separate ways. But a decade later all three found themselves simultaneously living in Berlin, so they decided to dust off their old material and started reworking it.
Recorded over an eight year period between 2007-2015, the gamble was gradually pieced together using multi-track tape recorders in Singwald’s basement whenever their schedules permitted. The trio built upon their youthful experimentations, using some as a foundation and sampling others, adding on top these much of what they’ve learned over the intervening years. Frahm’s touch can be heard across the album (he also handled the production side), but this is largely because his work is the most recognisable of the trio.
the gamble features a selection of styles including minimalist, ambient, Latin house and even a touch of jazz. The cold, sci-fi synths of “The Invention Mother” has Frahm written all over them, as does the melancholic “Saddest Continent on Earth”, both of which open the album. Frahm’s signature synth keys are visible yet again on “Ceramic People” but it’s here where the contributions of others become more visible, most notably the jazzy percussion of Andrea Belfi, the only outside contributor to feature. Belfi’s skittery drumming then makes way for the slowpaced Latin house of “Animal Farm” which sees the gamble descent into a more downtempo mode.
“The Beautiful Mess” contains a strong hint of Lalo Schifrin’s jazzy compositions, but the album takes its first real dip during the second half. “Capstan” spends three minutes doing virtually nothing before the shuffling Latin house of “Chasing God Through Palmyra” with its mellow keys and paranoid air suddenly kicks in. The album closes with two ambient cuts, “Pink Flirt” which floats beautifully along before turning into something a little more uneasy, and the spacious “Re: Turn!” featuring Frahm’s echoing keys.
For an album loosely based on old recordings and informally pieced together over eight years, the gamble comes out sounding very complete. It may not be as experimental as some would have hoped but there’s plenty to enjoy, especially for fans of Nils Frahm’s solo work.
Top Tracks: Saddest Continent on Earth; Ceramic People; Chasing God Through Palmyra
Released: 5 February 2016
Label: R & S Records
Genres: IDM, Minimalist, House, Ambient
Rating: Solid 7