Wolfgang Tillmans Preps New Album, Drops Synth-Heavy Single

The album will be released on Tillmans' label Fragile on 26 April.

Photographer Wolfgang Tillmans attends the Opening Reception for "Wolfgang Tillmans: To Look Without Fear". Photo: Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for the Museum of Modern Art.

When it comes to Wolfgang Tillmans’s place in music, his cover for Frank Ocean’s Blonde looms large. How could it not? The guarded close-up of Ocean in the shower was an immaculate pairing for a landmark album that explored melancholy and introspection.

Tillmans, however, has long striven to be considered a musician in his own right. His electronic music experiments began as a teenager, though it took him three decades to begin releasing them.

A string of EPs preceded 2021’s full length Moon in Earthlight (the film for which is held in MoMA’s collection) and now the German photographer has announced Build from Here, which is set to be released via his own record label Fragile on 26 April.

The accompanying single “Regratitude” tackles breaking free from life’s heaviest moments, a journey in which music mirrors lyrics. A low trundling baseline plays throughout. “That was a splash in my face, helpless, hopeful,” Tillmans says with a cadence that echoes something of Baxter Dury. “A moment of darkness,” he continues. In the song’s finale, there’s an escape with the sudden arrival of upbeat synths.

Earlier in 2024, Tillmans released the album’s lead-off track “Where Does The Tune Hide,” an ethereal affair in which he speculates about sources of creativity. It speaks to an album composed of songs that “vary in style, from propulsive and catchy to contemplative, featuring lush instrumentals transitioning into danceable beats,” noted Fragile in a statement.

Build from Here’s album art presents a nocturnal scene centered on an ambiguous form shrouded in a silver sheet. Beside it, there’s a fallen ladder and compression sprayer, the likes of which belong to construction sites. It’s an image of uneasy symbols, one that matches the album promise to “navigate joy and heartbreak amid ruin and rebuilding.” The album includes a 24-page booklet.

Tillmans has often used his musical ventures as a means of direct political expression. His 2016 EP release That’s Desire/Here We Are, via his band Fragile, arrived to offer hope in a time when Brexit had happened and Trump was on the rise. He described the accompanying 27-minute video as “a love song with political undertones,” and later used some of the lyrics in his pro-EU campaign posters.

Soon after, he released Angered Son in which Tillmans referenced the Orlando Pulse nightclub tragedy: “His son had recently been angered by seeing two men kissing.” It’s a line that chimed hauntingly with Tillmans’ The Cock (Kiss) from 2002, a close-up of two men kissing in a nightclub—one that promptly went viral.

It was an uncanny moment of Tillmans meeting the moment musically and artistically. One thing is for certain, Build from Here arrives at equally unstable times.

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