[album review] brandt brauer frick: you make me real

December 21, 2010

Album cover for You Make Me Real by Brandt Brauer Frick

Brandt Brauer Frick: You Make Me Real (!K7 Records, 2010)
£3.78 from [eMusic] (requires membership) – £6.99 from [Boomkat]

German trio Brandt Brauer Frick (Daniel, Jan and Paul respectively) have gained a lot of mainstream coverage for their distinctive take on house and techno; pretty good going for a group whose key reference points are Steve Reich, John Cage (of 4’33” fame) and Helmut Lachenmann.

BBF create dance music using (almost) only acoustic instruments – piano/prepared piano, strings, brass, various types of orchestral percussion and a Moog synthesiser. And incredibly clever it is too – astonishing in places (check out this lovely widget that interactively dissects how tracks are layered).

The relationship between minimalist classical and electronic dance musics (deterministic or otherwise) is well documented, and tackling the latter using the tools of the former is not a new idea – c.f. Alarm Will Sound‘s 2005 interpretation of Aphex Twin’s work, Acoustica. The dexterity with which BBF bend and rend, slice and splice their organic timbres takes the practice to a whole new level however.

Opener Corky Prelude is a confident introduction to the album’s sound and approach. The short, frenetic combination of a multitude of wooden knocks, it sets energy levels high and whets the appetite for more to come.

But across the tracks that follow You Make Me Real doesn’t quite satisfy. It’s hard to put your finger on why. Creatively, it unequivocally succeeds on a intellectual and technical level – an intriguing idea executed perfectly. But, like many ideas that are great on paper, you only have to demonstrate it once to explain it fully, to reveal its secrets. After that initial airing the album becomes, weirdly, kind of trapped by its acoustic richness.

Maybe I’m too enamoured of ‘traditional’ minimal techno but when consumed as a recording, the music (most of which, as straight-ahead house or techno, doesn’t possess the subtlety of Reich or the counter-intuitiveness of Cage) is somewhat overwhelmed by the relative sonic complexity of the ensemble producing it. Much of it would have worked better with a stripped back electronic palette.

There are a couple of exceptions: the title track is a wonderful piece of cosmic dub whose slower tempo gives the instruments more space to breathe, allowing them to facilitate just a little thematic development; and Teufelsleiter‘s jazzy harmonics and syncopation provide a satisfying close to the album.

I qualified my assessment as applying to You Make Me Real “as a recording” deliberately. BBF have assembled a 10-strong chamber orchestra of sorts for the next round of their live performances and, on the evidence of this rehearsal video, it looks like they will be something special.

Inventive and initially dazzling, You Make Me Real is, I fear, subject to the law of (sharply) diminishing returns as an album. Better get some tickets then.

close to 94 rating: ★★★★★★

This review is part of close to 94‘s [emusic club], which reviews one album from the eMusic catalogue every week from a selection refreshed every month.


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