Düsseldorf famously has form for pioneering electronic music. A spectacularly reductive take might even say it was born there. It’s also where Turkish-German pianist Erol Sarp met Swiss producer Lukas Vogel and formed Grandbrothers, a duo intent on some electronic pioneering of their own: hacking the classical piano with computer software and the spirit of EDM.
Which might make All The Unknown sound more experimental than it is. Grandbrothers’ technical wizardry may be esoteric, their output isn’t. The rippling piano-led electronica is tailor-made for a “focus” playlist – unobtrusive enough to wash over you, but complex enough to keep the brain active. In fact, if it had been algorithmically created for that purpose, it would be no surprise. Four Rivers, Shoreline… even the song titles evoke mindful neutrality. Work-from-your-laptop-in-the-wholefood-cafe music.
On an album which marries processed piano and organic piano sounds, it’s the combination of the two which produces this effect. Either option on its own offers something more soulful, be it the bell and zither-like tones created on Auberge or the heartsore unadorned piano of the Four Rivers outro. The Goat Paradox – thirty seconds of increasingly rapid arpeggios – seems most obviously programmatic of all – and yet its Philip Glassian vibe is more stirring than much of the album.
Once undulating piano meets electronic beats, it all tends to bleed into one. Unrest‘s shimmering intro feels like it’s about to open up like Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire or even Jan Hammer’s Crockett’s Theme, but ends up nothing quite so catchy. All mood, no hook. There is a hook on the pacey Silver, once the layers have been built up, but it all too soon it vanishes again into a wash of sound. The popping electronic bubbles at the start of Black Frost also soon become lost in mid-paced meandering. It’s all perfectly pleasant, but hard to feel passion for.