Concept. Sounds cold. An idea, isolated. A mechanism in motion. Art as thought; execution follows. Brandt Brauer Frick imposed conceptual foundations. “Classical Techno”: collect instruments and play. Compelling in theory, often rigid from the speakers.
Casting off the limiting constraints of their first two albums, Brandt Brauer Frick dive headlong into the fluid, mixed-media mayhem of ‘60s Fluxus art with the wildly cinematic Miami. Not content to simply plug more actual tech into their acoustic techno, the Berlin multi-instrumentalists engage a divergent range of guest vocalists to collaborate on what appears to be the soundtrack for a non-existent but highly-stylized cyber-thriller. This wide-screen angle isn’t made explicit anywhere in Miami’s album art or advance press—perhaps the trio wanted to avoid the stigma of gimmickry, perhaps I’m seeing something that’s not entirely there—and any cohesive narrative will have to thrive in the minds of the imaginative listener.
But there’s definitely a story behind it all.
Listening, I see the switchback plotting and amoral alliances of international espionage. I see codes exchanged by hand signal or sleight-of-hand or hieroglyphic text. I see writhing bodies in transgressive warehouse clubs. I see a sleepless nightworld where no one is exactly who they seem. “Miami Theme” opens the album in a Steadicam long take, building from the trio’s percussive piano and tracking across iron-lung burbles and ventilator strokes of heaving cello. A portentous dirge for a powerful old man dying alone in a darkened mansion, kept alive by plugs and tubes and government order as Erika Janunger dispassionately sings him to the other side. A key? A flash drive? A sealed envelope? “Ocean Drive” pockets something that wasn’t meant to be found and the chase is on, a relentless pursuit through crowded streets and alleyways, banging piano chords colliding with tension-wire synths and the combo-punch percussion of someone being worked over in a chair.
Shadowy characters abound. Gudrun Gut (of Einstürzende Neubauten) prowls through a Fever Ray-taut reworking of Bodo Elsel’s German EDM track “Fantasie Mädchen,” the original’s affectless vocals and mechanistic throb replaced by a dominatrix purr, black leather synths and a foreboding high-hat. Panther cool Russian DJ Nina Kraviz slips a mickey—or perhaps just happens on the scene when the double-vision and vertigo kick in—perception and a lockstep beat becoming a scattered fray of reality and memory and reeling piano as Kraviz repeats “Verwahrlosung,” a vital cryptogram to hold onto before consciousness is lost and the femme fatale vanishes in echoing footfalls.
Throughout Miami, the influence of John Cage and the Fluxus movement come to the fore in the incorporation of found sounds, the focus on the collective over the individual and the liberal use of the materials at hand as tools for making music (mallets, palms, speaker cabinets, every physical surface of the musical instrument). But where Cage non-judgmentally accepted the results produced by his sound experiments, Brandt Brauer Frick have a subjective end in mind: transcending any imaginary score, Miami’s tracks are meant to move a festival or nightclub crowd.
“Skiffle It Up” levels the gorged, purple oscillations of prime “Digidesign” Joker before speeding to a climax of hot pursuit BPMs. Soul shape-shifter Jamie Lidell guests on a pair of tracks, with the Berliners providing an ideal creative foil. Lidell’s voice crackles at its most electric when he’s railing at the brink of chaos rather than grinding out verse-chorus-verse, and “Broken Pieces” courses to a massive kettle-drum and paranoid glitches as Lidell breaks it down like Hardline-era Terrence Trent D’Arby. The clinical whir of major medical machinery returns in “Empty Words,” Lidell’s voice chopped and doubled as he switches up his own manic pitch, his vocal line ducking through underpasses and fog in a dynamic mix of thudding piano, live cymbals and noir strings.
Nothing has been neatly resolved by the time the closing credits roll in “Miami Titles”—the film that may not be a film is definitely the type of open-ended cliff-hanger where the intrigue continues well after the theater has emptied. Regardless of what plays out onscreen, Miami shows an inventive collective in the act of reinvention, their recorded output transitioning from concepts to compositions to living breathing body-moving songs. Miami has the depth and breadth to score the same breakthrough recognition as Andy Stott’s Luxury Problems and John Talabot’s Fin last year, club records that—no matter their original concept or function—function as music, period.