Does one focus purely on remixes and what they do with the original recordings, or compare and contrast and go back to the first incarnations as often as possible when attempting to evaluate a remix release? In the case of Nils Frahm‘s Juno things are made slightly easier by two points: the original two track, 7″ EP wasn’t widely reviewed and the Juno Reworked release comes with original tracks, resulting in a running order of remix-original-remix-original, leaving the listener with no option but to compare the original with its reworked counterpart.
The German composer and producer has been prolific over the past few years, releasing his own music through records like Felt and Screws, and making appearances with the likes of Lubomyr Melnyck, Olafur Arnalds, Efterklang and adopted Berliner Peter Broderick.
It’s Broderick who is in fact the subject of Juno; Frahm dispensed with his usual piano-based compositions to create two analogue synth tracks titled ‘For’ and ‘Peter’, a tribute to his friend/co-conspirator/kindred spirit who came up with the idea for Frahm to apply his keyboard skills to synth music.
What’s truly brilliant about those original Juno tracks – aside from them being recorded completely live with no overdubs – is how moving and completely not-out-of-place with the rest of the Frahm oeuvre they are. The echo-laden minor key of ‘For’ is a pure treat, stabbing pulses of analogue going straight for the heart, chord changes hitting at just the right moment as ambient washes soften any hard edges that might be appearing. ‘Peter’ is the longer of the two tracks, and definitely more sinister in tone. Like Mogwai circa Rock Action, it buzzes with creeping intensity before drifting into hazy Brian Eno territory and ending on a beautiful faux-orchestral coda, teary and bleary eyed, peering out towards a glorious sunrise.
For the reworks, Frahm brought in electronic maestro Luke Abbott and Warp Records’ guru Clark to work some magic on the Juno originals; what we’re left with are two radically different tracks that take the spirit of Frahm’s pieces and lead us somewhere completely different.
Abbott’s take on ‘For’ begins as a subtle and loose jazz exploration before moving into a Balearic dance groove that fades out and in around the original synth line (which becomes stronger as the reworking progresses); the beat is a wonderfully pleasant thud, synthetic yet natural and takes a back seat at all the right moments. Clark’s remix of ‘Peter’ is classically Warp: a thunderous and skittering beat falls over the original’s haze, unsettling the synth lines and bending them slightly out of shape, then elongating the notes as the drum clatter suddenly drops out for a moment or two before returning with more power for the coda.
As a pair, Abbott and Clark’s reworkings work just as well as two symphonic movements as Frahm’s originals do. To hear them alongside the Juno tracks, in that running order, means that the line between original and remix is, to some extent, blurred. On first listen, not knowing about Frahm or the project, you might be hard pressed to work out which is which. And solely on that point, Juno Reworked is perhaps the most successful remix project you’re likely to hear for a good while.