Ellen Allien: SooL
Bpitch Control

In which Ellen Allien does “minimal” when what we'd much rather hear is Ellen Allien doing, well, “Ellen Allien.” In other words, when Allien remodels her sound into a relatively svelte form by exiling vocals and stripping away melody, her music loses two of the best things it's got going for it. SooL includes little of the melodic genius that so distinguishes Berlinette and her Apparat collab Orchestra of Bubbles and the omission of her alluring vocals doesn't argue terribly much in favour of her fourth solo album either. Created in Berlin during the winter 2007-08, SooL finds Allien pushing buttons at her studio and juggling armfuls of electronic noises and beats.

The jaunty “Elphine” nimbly skips through a field of Theremin-like swoops, whistles, and warbly vocal effects that's mildly interesting, and the woodsy clarinet-styled melody that adorns the low-level slink of “Zauber” is memorable too. “Caress” starts promisingly with a dark and insistent beat throb, Allien's phantom utterances of the title, and willowy synth drapery but exits before building into something really substantial. There are some strong moments: driven by a propulsive percussive clang, “Its” breathes some of that familiar Allien fire, while “Frieda,” the album's most arresting piece, is a romantic electro-ballad that reduces Allien's voice to a silky whisper and sweetens it with glockenspiel tinkles.

Even so, the material's major downside is that it often lacks Allien's characteristic build and drive; the underwhelming opener “Einsteigen,” for example, is a largely static collage of field elements and keyboard meander, and it's telling that the experimental sound sketch “Bim,” for example, sounds so much like an AGF track—nothing wrong with that, necessarily, except for the fact that it's Allien, not AGF, we want (that AGF strain, by the way, shouldn't surprise, given Antye Greie's involvement as SooL co-producer). We love Allien but SooL? Not so much.

June 2008