I’m sure there are problems with extolling records purely on the basis of their longevity in our listening history. Nonetheless, these albums which we return to periodically, and the way in which we keep returning to them - like slipping into well-worn boots to help us navigate our same tired patch of earth - must speak to some enduring quality which deserves our attention. It’s a quality which can only reveal itself with the passage of time, so it shouldn’t surprise us that so many once-proclaimed ‘brilliant’ records have failed to clear this bar. Very few have.
Nils Frahm’s Screws
is, however, one of these records. Released in 2012, it feels safe nine years later to bestow this peculiar kind of endurance-worship upon Frahm’s gentle sunbeam of a record. That said, it’s curious that so simple an album should carry such a lasting impact. Screws
contains nine short piano compositions. There’s no other instrumentation and the whole runtime doesn’t even extend to a half hour. There’s nothing particularly original or technically impressive to be found here. And yet, what I find in Screws
I cannot find anywhere else.
In considering what I find so compelling about this record that I’ve turned to it time and time again, especially in light of its modest reception on this site, I’m inclined to believe it has more to do with me than the music. Or, rather, it has to do with that strange alchemy that emerges between ourselves and the music we, for whatever reason, love. For instance, if I consider this record perfection, which I do, then I need to consider that my concept of perfection has always necessitated a just-perceptible seam of sadness. Screws
finds this seam and mines it. Without the feather-light melancholia which runs throughout and illumines the piano work on Screws
, the album would not have endured; at the same time, if this hint of a lament were any more pronounced, it would have suffered the same fate.
Possibly, then, Screws
is still with me because it strikes a balance between hope and despair, beauty and cruelty, solitude and loneliness, with a resonance which washes over, and, for a time, washes out, the more morose leanings of my slightly broken brain. Its simplicity makes this possible. Frahm’s piano strokes pad across the surface of consciousness with grace and ease and just enough substance to leave an imprint, and the effect this produces - a kind of quiet salute to the sigh in the smile, the chip in the glass - would be lost under the weight of just one more instrumental addition.
To say any more than this would be antithetical to the sparse nature of the record, but if you can forgive the indulgence of a closing remark: Screws
is the perfect showcase of how to use a single instrument for a single purpose and, in doing so, of how to make its audience feel like it was made for a single listener.