Germanic trio Brandt Brauer Frick return with their second full album Miami, loosening a little the self-imposed restraint of their previous work, and injecting some psych dottiness into their arch, progressive neo-classical dance.
2010's You Make Me Real has been firmly implanted in my listening ever since I stumbled across the videos for the singles 'Caffeine' and 'Bop' last year. Both arrived with entrancing videos that painted steel and wood veneer tales of greyscale lives lived in angular, pre-packaged societies. Far from everyday, the album made other producers look like dinosaurs, boiling down and de-frothing years of loud shirted rave nostalgia into a 'serious' document that also possessed a slyly dark sense of humour.
BBF pieces transmit effortlessly into a live setting. The group tour as a live dance ensemble, combining traditionally dance-y elements like synths with live woodwind and strings. Their shows contrast with the traditionally digital world of four-to-the-floor, replacing a lot of computer-generated percussion with jazz-improv tones and suggesting a timelessness for dance music. The sense of humour may be not that far from Daft Punk, but they position themselves at the opposite end of the spectrum stylistically. Like the old Teutonic cliché, BBF are very clever, extremely skilful and occasionally a little cold.
Miami explodes into life with the first in a recurring series of pieces based around the titular Florida resort. The ten minute long 'Miami Theme' features the breathy filmmaker and performance artist Erika Janunger, and could soundtrack an episode of Crime Scene Investigation directed by David Fincher. A despairing piano chord progression coldly welcomes us, slowly evolving into a thumping, Portishead-like ghost epic. An oil tanker of a synth line soon brings the hammer down while an orchestral arrangement like a hurricane pulls up the rafters. If their debut was a mission statement for their former aesthetic, showcasing a flair for making classical instruments sound like finely tuned machines, 'Miami Theme' is a hyper-realist portrait of a coastal city wrestling with its demons.
The meat of Miami is its dancier, more instinctively BBF-like tracks. 'Ocean Drive (Schamane)' brings the steady beat, unrolling into an urgent, mathy close that sees the trio eschew the four-four beat and assault braincells with jabbing, asymmetrical orchestra hits. The many collaborations on show are mostly successful, notably Kanye West / Frank Ocean producer Om’Mas Keith on 'Plastic Like Your Mother' and the Nina Kraviz vocalising 'Verwahrlosung', an insanely funky highlight and stand out track that has Nina crawling all over a swirling, swampy slice of psych-techno. At one point the track breaks out into full on Battles-style atonal riffing; you can imagine the live performance lighting up dance tents at the more challenging festivals across Europe this Summer.
Not everything they attempt is entirely successful. What Jamie Lidell is doing on this record is anybody's guess; his contribution to 'Broken Pieces' consists of a yelped, soulless vocal that focuses uncomfortably on his weakest point, his lyrics, and a second guest slot on 'Empty Words' is an unfortunately titled non-event. Lidell's albums have always hinted at a personal coldness and detachment, despite their subject matter. BBF and his collaborations here would be better as instrumentals.
Famous friends aside (and there are a hell of a lot on here) 'Miami' is mostly a brilliantly wild-eyed, visceral effort. Apart from the scene-setting interludes which punctuate the otherwise incessantly driving rhythm, BBF focus their talents on making their inimitable style of brain-dance as bodymoving as possible. Hopefully next time they will feel confident enough to put aside their contacts list and let their own genius speak for itself.