When Nils Frahm and F.S Blumm dropped Dessert Mule, the first single off their fourth collaborative album together 2X1=4, out now on LEITER, it became apparent that this record would be distinct from the work that preceded it. Immediately apparent was the shift in genre, with the duo exploring the psychedelic waters of dub. This sort of progression was to be expected perhaps; German producer and guitarist Blumm has explored dancehall in his discography before with his work as part of the group Quasi Dub Development whose sound is possibly best described as avant-garde reggae. But then there was the intricacy of the music itself, a distinct shift in tonality from their arguably more playful and fluidly expressive work on Music For Lovers, Music Versus Time. Even the outwardly serious Tag Eins Tag Zwei found itself rooted in improvisation, and in some ways this sense of play became the standard expectation from the meeting of these two minds. 2X1=4 turns that expectation on its head by existing as a record that has been meticulously sequenced and fine-tuned, likely due to the fact that the pair have been working on this music since 2016. Approaching the laidback landscape of dub with this level of perfectionism may seem left of centre, but then again if anything is to be expected of Frahm and Blumm, it might as well be the unexpected.
The result of this obsessive tweaking on 2X4=1 is a complete immersion into the possibilities and textures of time-warping, echoey, and distortion-filled dub. These are married twangy Americana motifs to paint an aesthetic palette fit to colour any sort of lone ranger on horseback in the outback imagery, slow-paced melodies plucked on Blumm’s guitar strings and accented with swaths of delay. Presidential Tub opens with these strings alone, strumming a sort of Wild West gait before exploding into percussive textures and layers of reverberated, delayed motifs. Puddle Drop builds itself around a syncopated, crackling rhythm and modulating synths that blend in and out of passages of brass instruments, while Blumm plucks a plodding bass riff in the background. This sort of desert meandering marks much of what could be considered the album’s first act, up until Bunny Hop which begins the descent into abstraction. The tracks on 2X4=1 are markedly long, stretching beyond the five minute mark. This works in its favour; the music is given room to twist and turn, phase in and out of moods and shades and for the full extent of Frahm and Blumm’s treasure trove of textures and ideas to be explored. This is especially true for the epic Sarah & Eve, which runs just on thirteen minutes. Over the course of these minutes, Frahm and Blumm give us an impromptu history lesson into the evolution of dub and reggae into forms such as drum and bass and garage, with a galloping half-time break beat that opens at breakneck pace but gradually begins to slow down over the track’s runtime, filled later with delayed touches of synth and keys. Things beyond Sarah & Eve are pretty cerebral yet undeniably fascinating. This starts with heavily delayed and distorted drum loops and touches of undulating synths on Raw Chef, then phases to the slow unravelling of a trope reggaeton riff into glitchy dubtronica on Neck Rub.
Most of what Frahm and Blumm create together on 2X1=4 feels grounded by Blumm’s guitar; an essential point of departure for these tracks to set off on their respective lone and winding journeys. The places they arrive at are at times surprising and bewildering, but it speaks toward their vehement investiture into the oft hallucinatory qualities of dub. The crafting on this album is likely to be a key talking point for criticism, but if anything the obsessive formulation of this music results in highly vivid and concentrated moments of the world Frahm and Blumm set out to create here, like an oasis mirage in the midst of a scorched desert or just a really massive hit of DMT.
Listen to Sarah & Eve from 2×4=1 below, and download the album here.
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