Ellen Allien: Dust
BPitch Control

“Our Utopie” opens Dust so strongly, one immediately wonders whether it might match Ellen Allien's best releases, 2003's Berlinette and her 2006 collaboration with Apparat, Orchestra of Bubbles. Alas, that doesn't happen, although her fifth solo album does contain a couple of tracks that, singly, manage that feat. To her credit, the Berlin-based DJ and BPitch Control owner continues to move forward, boldly pushing on and attempting something new. If sometimes that works (Orchestra of Bubbles) and sometimes doesn't (2008's Sool), Allien should nevetheless by applauded for her readiness to tackle new challenges.

“Our Utopie” royally charges from the gate with a strutting bass-powered thump augmented by, first of all, the delicious hook of a tick-tock melodic line and, secondly, an angular guitar riff, the combination of which amounts to the album's most seductive track. While not as quite as captivating, “Flashy Flashy” leaves a strong impression too, especially when its disco pulse slinks so enticingly beneath the vocal call-and-response Allien performs with herself, one voice a low-pitched drawl and the other a cryptic whisper (her singing is prominently featured throughout the album, with her fragile delivery often presented so that it sounds almost girlish, if not child-like). Unfortunately, the considerable momentum generated by that opening pair is squandered by the third, “My Tree,” which, aside from the ear-catching appearance of a clarinet towards song's end, meanders without ultimately amounting to much of significance. The next song, “Sun The Rain,” attempts to re-establish the opening songs' breeziness and succeeds to some degree in doing so when it adds raw electric guitar riffing to the song's driving synth-pop base.

Awash in cloudy clusters of trilling flutes and disembodied voices, the dream-like “Should We Go Home” gradually comes into focus as a study in ambient techno, with a lightly pumping bass drum pulse drenched in fluttering noises. But while it succeeds as an exercise in atmosphere, it's melodically undistinguished and can't help but feel secondary when heard alongside a song such as “Our Utopie.” Bubbly and funky, “Ever” works a jacking groove to nice effect, especially when it's powered by a disco-funk bass line and sparkling glockenspiel cascades, but here too the track—more club groove than anything else—is finally diminished by the absence of a melodic dimension. “Dream” makes for a memorable side-trip when it weds Kraftwerkian “Numbers”-styled synth patterns to African percussion polyrhythms. Unfortunately, “Schlumi” ends the album on a forgettable note with a groove-based track that feels tailor-made to send clubbers home.

At the very least, one can say that Dust is a more satisfying outing than Sool, and one can also endorse Allien's choice of an exuberant pop-song style over Sool's distancing minimalism. In addition, Dust ranges relatively widely on stylistic grounds, with the expected club-ready workouts joined by indie-rock songs (“Sun The Rain,” “You”). But if Dust can be seen as a relative return to form for Allien, it's also an imperfect one, as its modest number of stellar tracks are weakened by others that are less enthralling.

June 2010