Eclectic Minimalist Rock
Nils Frahm, Frederic Gmeiner and Sebastian Singwald discovered a shared passion for tape machines in their teenage years; a passion that brought them together as musicians and eventually led to the formation of nonkeen. Years later, following several independent projects, the band released its debut album in 2016. the gamble encompassed both sampled work from the trio’s formative years in Berlin, as well as a bevy of new recordings. However, the collection was unified by nonkeen’s distinctive sprawling soundscapes, lo-fi ambient textures and exciting rhythmic figures.
nonkeen’s second LP – released within the same year – retains the artistic DNA that made its predecessor such a spellbinding listening experience. This, of course, should not come as too much of a surprise since the two albums were recorded simultaneously. In fact, the release of the gamble before oddments was decided by a mere coin toss.
The two albums possess striking similarities, yet oddments of the gamble offers a more pensive and melancholic sound that is improvised in feel. “The Journey of Hello Peter” opens with a jazzy keyboard solo before transitioning into a loosely structured, psychedelia-inflected groove. The lead key figures in “The Monkey in the Machine” meander aimlessly through a thick blend of lush synth textures.
Frahm’s performance on keyboard is highly extemporized, yet he still possesses an impressive level of restraint that prevents him from eclipsing nonkeen’s subtler atmospheric textures. “Schwertfisch” demonstrates his ability to craft beautifully delicate melodic material, while tracks like “World Air” and “Obviously Algebra” see him take somewhat of a backseat to the band’s remarkably dense post-rock soundscapes.
oddments’ percussive material should not be overlooked either. Guest musician Andrea Belfi’s drumming synchronizes beautifully with Singwald’s plodding bass figures to add a sense of frantic excitement that can evoke a rousing ‘math-rock’ performance at times. “Glow” is perhaps the best example of percussively driven minimalist rock on oddments of the gamble. On the other hand, tracks such as “Diving Platform” fashion more subdued rhythmic work to achieve an ethereal, dreamlike quality that is vaguely reminiscent of Mogwai.
oddments of the gamble sometimes plays as more of a collection of diverse sounds than a cohesive album. Its tracks are formless and rarely attempt to build upon motivic content. Instead, they sprawl on interminably while maintaining exceptionally static melodic and harmonic figures, yet this peculiar brand of amorphous minimalism can help to characterize nonkeen’s appeal. The construction of rich musical textures is emphasized over structure or melody and the trio produces a truly diverse array of atmosphere that helps to keep things varied and interesting. While “Told and Small,” “Happy Juno,” and “Back and Forth” offer more classically minimalist progressions, the remainder of the album’s works maintain a similarly conservative attitude within a more “post-rock” framework.
nonkeen’s latest work offers a truly hypnotic blend of sounds. While its loosely-formed tracks may diverge from the cohesion of a more conventionally-structured album, its quirky charm and absorbing atmospheres are more than enough to make it a worthwhile listen.