Ada: Meine Zarten Pfoten
Those expecting Michaela Dippel's latest Ada collection, Meine Zarten Pfoten (German for “My Tender Paws”) to be something like Blondie Part 2 are in for a major surprise, as her sophomore album—arriving seven years after her debut and on DJ Koze's Pampa Records, not Areal—contains precious little of the dance-floor elements that made Blondie such a standout (listeners hungry for a modern-day version of Blondie might consider Steffi Doms' recent Ostgut Ton collection Yours & Mine as a substitute). In simplest terms, the new album is more about melodic and meticulously arranged electro-pop than club tracks, though a few instances of the latter do appear. Of course Blondie's stirring Yeah Yeah Yeahs' cover “Maps” now could be heard in hindsight as having anticipated the new album's pop focus, despite the lengthy gap separating the releases.
That Meine Zarten Pfoten won't be a set of club tracks is made clear when the Cologne-based producer opens it with a cover of Luscious Jackson's “Faith,” the song's melancholy swoon and breathy vocals somewhat reminiscent in mood and style of “Maps.” During “On the Mend,” Ada's wordless vocal floats serenely o'ertop a languorous drift of seaside splendour, as lilting rhythms and hand percussion conjure the peaceful ambiance of a sundrenched beach patio. As if that song isn't lounge-styled enough, the next one, “Likely,” extends even farther in that direction by merging Spanish guitar strums, organ, wooden flutes, and a “Happy or sad” vocal choir (made up of Dippel and Coyokita) with shaker rhythms (“2 Likely” at disc's end resurrects the “Happy or sad” vocal riff and builds it into a striking, multi-layered incantation). Ada's re-imagining of No Kids' “The Jazz Singer” is livelier by comparison (the original appears on the group's 2010 Tomlab EP Judy At the Grove) and distinguished by the sparkling electro-pop context Dippel fashions for Marissa Johnson's vocals.
Six songs in, the album makes its move into dancefloor territory with “At the Gate,” a seven-minute techno workout that Ada powers with a throbbing bass pulse and a galloping ride cymbal pattern courtesy of Cosmic DJ ( Daniel Sommer). Ever the inspired arranger, Dippel showers the track with all manner of colourful touches, processed and otherwise, until it almost becomes less straight-up dance track and more richly designed instrumental. The penultimate “Happy Birthday” likewise includes traces of clubland in its loping, at times funky 4/4 groove (even if the track's slow tempo would prevent it from crowding the dancefloor), but the song's more notable for its ear-catching weave of chopped vocal patterns and quietly rapturous spirit. Also present is “Intro,” a keyboard-heavy instrumental dominated by flickering patterns that exude some of the repetitive thrust of Reich-styled minimalism, but the track that comes closest to filler is “Interlude,” an exotic folk-chant featuring wooden flutes and processed sounds.The gorgeous hidden track, “Keep Me In Mind,” turns out to be another remix, this time Ada's take on a song composed by Little Joy (originally heard on the band's self-titled album issued on Rough Trade in 2008). Arguably the album's best piece, “Keep Me In Mind” presents a ravishing marriage of jubilant pop melody, sensual vocals, and dance beats that would have made for a perfect opener, even if everything following it would then have been in its shadow.
Dippel uses her soft and breathy voice to maximum advantage on a few songs, but the album would have benefited from more of it. Still, the most questionable thing about the release might be its sequencing. The album's first half almost entirely concentrates on non-dance-related material, and consequently, when the club tracks emerge during the second they have a tough time countering the melodic pop song vibe established by the opening songs. Dippel might have been wiser to insert one or two of the clubbier pieces into the first half so that a better overall balance would have been struck. And why she chose to bury such a ravishing song as “Keep Me In Mind” as a hidden track at album's end is puzzling. Had the entire album been at the level of this song, Meine Zarten Pfoten might have ended up appearing on a number of year-end lists.