Nils Frahm & Anne Müller: 7fingers (Erased Tapes)
More than most albums of the last several years, this collaboration between multi-instrumentalist Anne Müller and electronic tinkerer Nils Frahm really caught me off-guard. It started off sweetly enough with some ambient string arrangements, but the combination with electronics that snaps into place on the 2nd track is really arresting. It’s the most engaging combination of chamber arrangements and electronics in a very long time and manages to trump Digitonal’s “23 Things Fall Apart” in that arena. Opener “Teeth” sets the stage well with a string arrangement that eases into tension, priming ears for what’s to follow. The skittering electronics that lead the title track snapped me out of it and alerted me that this is a much more involved, less obvious work than I had anticipated, and I was happy to hear it. At times the sound is more acoustic and cinematic, such as the menacing string and piano arrangement of “Because This Must Be” and its second part, “Augmentation,” which incorporates film dialogue. At other times, electronics take the reins, such as the nervous pulse of “Duktus” and its insistent cut-up synths. And the duo saved the biggest surprise for last, with a startling melodic vocal on the last track, “Long Enough,” which works surprisingly well as an epilogue to what’s a truly phenomenal listen. What’s most noteworthy about the album is that not only is the juxtaposition and combination of sounds satisfying and surprising, but it continues to deliver on that promise for the full duration, always engaging and emotive, perfectly put together. Technically this album came out in 2010, but it’s still going on my best of the year list since I’m late to the party — it’s that good.