Niklas Kramer started off playing coy. He first came to us as a kind of anonymous benefactor, dropping the 2013 single “Actors” under the Serve and Volley banner without any sort of personal push for the limelight. Instead, Kramer opted for the slow and subtle reveal, letting his personal brand of dream-gaze take the main stage, so listeners could focus on the music. Interests were certainly piqued.
Kramer gradually hit the festival circuit throughout Europe, gaining a following outside his native foothold of Berlin. An EP, Fields, followed, and is now topped by his latest body of work, Concrete Vision, which marks the slight stylistic renaissance Kramer underwent over the last three years. Having previously recorded and produced tracks in fully-equipped, tricked-out studios, Kramer opted for a shift after being gifted a multi-track tape recorder from his father. It was a switch to a more organic, homegrown approach to his music, which still clings to those funky, vaguely hallucinogenic psych rhythms.
Take “Chamber,” whose opening synth has ties to the woodwind family and discreet, space-age undertones, eventually leveling out into a percussion and cymbal-clanging shuffle. At the center we have Kramer’s whispering vocals, gently fuzzy, repeating, “We were coming from nowhere / We’ve got somewhere / I was hiding / You’re the only one who knew / I was hoping for the sign.” The thought plays on a loop, caged, as the title suggests, in a chamber of the mind tinged with regret. The music-mill has recently been buzzing with the sentiment that Still Parade, and “Chamber” in particular, dove a little too deep into saccharine pop on this release, but to my ear, this track feels at peace with the sadness upon which it reflects.
Then there’s the album’s namesake, “Concrete Vision,” which also has a rolling, pensive pace beside Kramer’s impressive falsetto as he sings, “And I held my head high / And it was all an illusion / And we pretend to know why / But we keep waiting for someone.” It’s easy listening at its finest, and a hint as to what Kramer was after, thematically, singing later in the song, “And it is never enough our concrete vision.” The song plays like an afternoon reverie, unable to focus on the present, lost instead in our own fantasies that never quite play out.
Finally, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the shot of funk that Still Parade injects into "Walk in the Park." It feels warmer than the two aforementioned tracks, with Kramer’s voice a croon as soft as an exhale, “There’s nothing that can change my mind.” Its guitar strums take on a twang after some machine-processing, and overall has a feel of summer-night excursions (well, walks in the park). Kramer is so convincing, you’ll link arms and stroll without a second thought.
Which may be the best sentiment to describe Still Parade, as an outfit. With Kramer’s multi-instrumentalist talents on display, we follow him into synth-drenched and an easy haze of beats, appreciating the man but, as he wanted, feeling the music first.