Album Review: Grandbrothers – Late Reflections

[City Slang; 2023]

For Grandbrothers’ latest album, location is key – so important in fact that the record probably would not have existed without it. Approached by architect Peter Füssenich, the duo (consisting of German-Turkish pianist Erol Sarp and Swiss engineer/software designer Lukas Vogel) were asked if they wanted to perform a concert in one of Germany’s most visited tourist attractions: Cologne Cathedral. Accepting the unexpected invite, the duo started working on music, rehearsing in the space throughout the night. Normally the gothic cathedral would attract some 20,000 people a day, but, in its reverberating halls under cover of darkness, the duo were alone.

This solitude rings out poignantly on Late Reflections; on good speakers or with close listening you can hear the natural 13-second reverb in action, piano notes trilling out to every corner and crevice of the building. (The album title itself refers to the acoustic terminology of delayed and diffused reflections of sound.) The staccato chords and robotic percussion of “North/South” resonate starkly while the hymnal ambience of “Yokohama Rascals” hums like the building speaking back to Sarp and Vogel. The album’s best feature might be the quality of the music: these sonic vibrations of noise sound positively HD at times, and simply couldn’t have been made anywhere else.

Late Reflections is also a piano album through and through: all the music here was created using said instrument. “We use the piano as a sound source, and then we go with digital effects and manipulate it further,” Vogel expounds. Sometimes the central instrument itself is enough for the richly rewarding sound (the settling, rippling chords on final track “Boy In The Storm” for instance), but other times the manipulated effects take the focus. The whirring percussive track on “Infinite” evokes early múm while the Hans Zimmer-esque whomps of “Adrift” repeatedly threaten to swallow the track. While not always varied enough for a whole record, there is plenty of detail to listen out for across the album.

Where the record does leave something to be desired is where it goes with its ideas. Opening track “Daybreak” has chords that could fit nicely in a Europop dance track (and hark back to the duo’s earlier club-influenced work), and while it does conjure scenes of sunlight peering through the cathedral windows, it feels like it’s wanting to expand more outward.

A couple of tracks at the album’s back end also suffer a similar fate, making for a less engaging second half: “Bloom” ebbs and flows across five minutes, but travels a short distance; “Vertigo” tries to find a stark point to build to, but instead of traversing church spire height, it feels little less vertigo-inducing than a moderately tall staircase.

Still, Sarp knows how to hone in on those delicious-sounding chords, the ones that sound angular and jaggy, but reverberate with a certain profundity. The music here lies somewhere between Hauschka’s prepared piano compositions and Ludovico Einaudi’s filmic scope. “Infinite” even manages to go from sounding curiously like “Don’t Stop Believin’” in its intro to capturing the blissful drone-like high of Fuck Buttons’ 2009 album Tarot Sport. It’s one of those moments where everything sounds in sync: the duo speaking seamlessly to each other and with the cathedral too. With arpeggios shimmering they ascend upwards and outwards. It’s Grandbrothers’ music as much as it is Cologne Cathedral’s.