The debut album by Nonkeen sports an extensive back story, dating back to the trio's first musical experiments growing up in Germany in the late '80s. Nils Frahm, Frederic Gmeiner, and Sebastian Singwald would trade tapes back and forth between Hamburg and Berlin, creating music with whatever instruments they had on hand, making up skits and stories, and updating each other about their lives. During summer breaks, they'd convene and play music together, eventually playing summer concerts at a fairground. This came to a halt when an accident occurred, smashing their instruments and damaging their spirits. It wasn't until a decade later that the trio members found themselves all living in Berlin, and decided to look beyond the tragic experience and reignite the creative spark of their initial collaboration. They revisited the tapes of their youth, sampling and reworking ideas, and taking off into new directions. The tracks that make up their debut album, The Gamble, were pieced together from informal rehearsal sessions over the course of nearly a decade, all recorded on multi-track tape recorders in basement or apartment studios. There's definitely a loose, casual spirit to them, but given how the three musicians have become proficient over the years (particularly Frahm, who is now a world-renowned pianist and composer), it's no surprise that the results sound highly developed and considered rather than amateur and sloppy. The mood of the album is generally low-key and occasionally a bit melancholy, with the song title of "Saddest Continent on Earth" accurately reflecting its blue mood. The shuffling drums, disruptive bass, and circular synths of "Ceramic People" are considerably more uptempo, and feel breezy yet frantic, especially as additional drums layer on the track during the second half. "Animal Farm" and "Chasing God Through Palmyra" both seem to be variations on the same Cluster-like rhythm, burying a muttering vocal loop underneath mellow keyboards and a shaker-driven beat; "Chasing God" is the faster of the two, and it has a bit more of an anxious feel to it. Much of the album has the sort of jazz-but-not-quite sensibility of Ambiq or Moritz von Oswald Trio, and its more rhythmic moments are in line with many of the younger Krautrock-inspired acts on the Bureau B label, but the trio members allow themselves to drift out of orbit with spacious ambient cuts such as the closing "Re: Turn!" The overall result is a spirited collaboration that digs through the past for inspiration, but seems to prefer to keep memories a bit hazy.
The Gamble Review
by Paul Simpson