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nonkeen – oddments of the gamble

on July 29, 2016, 12:00am
B
Release Date
July 29, 2016
Label
R&S Records
Formats
digital, vinyl, cd

Less than half a year ago, German trio nonkeen put out the gamble, an album full of swirling, jazz-indebted compositions. Many attributed the album to Nils Frahm and pals, which in a sense is true; the trio comprises the hypnotic composer and two of his lifelong friends. But The Gamble revealed a far more complex reality than that line might suggest — and the music was far more complex than the early impressions of ambience. Their follow-up coming so quickly, and with a title implying leftovers, no less, left room for some concern, some fear that they were under-baking the follow-up. But then again, any band that’ll brand the leftover material from a debut album as a sophomore record called oddments of the gamble has an idea of what they’re doing.

Though, it’s not like oddments are the ones determined not to be good enough for the first record. If you believe their press release, the band apparently flipped a coin to determine which songs would make it onto the gamble, but were then still so happy with these “losers” that they decided to release them as a sequel. However, there is a sort of distinction between the two records, even if it’s being placed with hindsight and cognitive bias. While the gamble reached mystic atmosphere and engrossing seamlessness, this record delivers its dose of bliss through more push and pull. The musicians seem to be interacting with each other, rather than uniting as a sort of Voltron of jazz/post-rock/krautrock beauty.

Frahm, Frederic Gmeiner, and Sebastian Singwald have known each other since childhood, and their records this year are informed and at least partially reworked versions of pieces they’d first created in the ‘90s as kids. As such, things can feel a little fragmented, edges between more fully formed pieces and minute-long interludes of ambient wash left rough, but compelling. “kassettenkarussell” opens the record with 10 seconds of noise, perhaps something played backwards with the skipping percussive sound of tape flapping at the end of a reel. Time doesn’t work on oddments the way it does in the real world, stretched to strange lengths or thrown backwards.

After that initial burn, “kassettenkarussell” runs on a bobbing tom pattern, proggy synths, and bassy hum, interrupted by flashes of whistle. While they might not be working with time conventionally, they’re using their powers to please rather than obfuscate. Whether getting the body moving (as on the opener) or pushing it into a full-on float (the cloudy “happy juno” or the arpeggiating bliss of “back and forth”), they use their super abilities responsibly.

Balancing out those two halves — and, moreover, their many genre influences — will prove to be the key to nonkeen’s appeal. Fittingly, “diving platform” recalls another instrumental band familiar with that growth and process: Tortoise. After an open-air synth intro, jazz bass and reverberating percussion lock things into a subdued groove. The six-minute track flows by as one swaying epic, Frahm’s choppy waves of piano lapping up against the shore. Tortoise, though, are a quartet, able to shift more layers about over the course of a five-minute song to keep it interesting. As a trio, nonkeen can occasionally get stuck in their drones, but more often than not keep things interesting with nuanced alterations.

Elsewhere, “copy of crazy” shines, as it finally puts a spotlight solidly on the percussion, the piece (as with any good krautrock-indebted album) pushing things along throughout. “the journey of hello peter” builds from scribbles of purple organ to a slow-burning jam run by ringing cymbals and rubbery bass, bubbles of electronic noise cropping up in the margins.

The only weakness of oddments is the occasional breaks in the overall flow, moments where tracks fade away too soon or stretch on too long, or where a massive peak is dropped off immediately into a spacy low. But these breaks are infrequent, only jarring because of the comforting haze the record consistently meets. If nonkeen can produce two records this unified and strong by flipping a coin, just imagine what they’d be able to do intentionally picking material in a narrative arc.

Essential Tracks: “diving platform”, “copy of crazy”, and “the journey of hello peter”

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