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The German trio of Daniel Brandt, Jan Brauer and Paul Frick make techno like Emerson, Lake & Palmer made rock — with a honed neoclassical technique. The band's take on techno isn't cold, detached or inert; in fact, nearly every sound the three men sample comes from a real, live instrument. Master synthesists, sure, their firm has made its name by making strings, winds, brass and percussion sound like anything but. Beneath all the processing, though, lies a truly organic source.
For the most part, last year's Mr. Machine was an all-instrumental affair. And, from a pure sound perspective, it found The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble — swollen to 11 instrumentalists — at perhaps its most progressive. Here on Miami, out March 19, the orchestration plays more passively, with a host of unique vocalists leading the mix: Stockholm singer-songwriter Erika Janunger, Om'Mas Keith of L.A. alt-hop outfit Sa-Ra, Russian DJ Nina Kraviz and Einstürzende Neubauten's Gudrun Gut.
"Broken Pieces," a skittering house cut featuring futuristic soul man Jamie Lidell, first surfaced back in January. Lidell gets a second track to croon over in "Empty Words," but instead of that soaring falsetto, he issues a hushed yet urgent four-word whisper on repeat: "Hiding behind empty words." Likewise, Janunger's breathy, almost background vocal in "Miami Theme" (the first in the implied trilogy of "Miami Theme," "Miami Drift" and "Miami Titles") heightens BBF's noisy noir all the more. And, while Brandt, Brauer and Frick might have wanted some restraint in the controlled jungle burn of "Plastic Like Your Mother," there's just no containing a guy like Om'Mas Keith. "I'm willing to dance for you," he insists. Duly noted.
Paul Frick has said in interviews that he and his colleagues are trying to write songs as opposed to tracks. Brandt Brauer Frick's greatest virtue on Miami lies in its ability to seamlessly set those songs to English (well, German, in Kraviz's "Verwahrlosung" and Gut's "Fantasie Mädchen"). Just in time for Ultra Music Fest, it's an achievement in sound editing and songcraft.