Audion/Ellen Allien: Just A Man/Woman

René Breitbarth/Bodycode: Spectral Sound Presents No. 1

Lusine: Emerald EP

Three new EPs from Ghostly and Spectral make for some predictably distinctive summer listening. The former gives us the latest missive from Lusine (Jeff McIlwain) while the latter treats us to a collaborative Audion/Ellen Allien effort and a split disc featuring new recruits René Breitbarth and Bodycode (Alan Abrahams aka Portable).

Having toured North America together in 2005, Detroit 's Matthew Dear and Berlin's Ellen Allien hit upon the very cool idea of issuing a joint 12-inch featuring originals and related remixes. Those hoping for a tumultuous summit should know that the disc's material is, overall, surprisingly restrained—more elegantly calibrated cool than uncontrolled fire. Nonetheless, the quality level is high: bolstered by needling interlays of electronic signals, the insistently chugging “Just a Woman” offers a prototypically refined sampling of Allien's electro-techno sound, while Dear's Audion overhaul adds infectious gallop and swing to the original's insectoid figures. In Allien's “Just a Man” overhaul, disembodied male and female voices sleepily croak “Ellen” and “Audion” like beckoning androids before the piece plunges off a wiry electro precipice, taking the alternating voice fragments with it; the piece grows increasingly cryptic as the voice calls return, like the pathetic pleas of bedridden patients breathing their last. As good as the others are, first prize goes to Audion's “Just a Man.” Dear opens the tune with a propulsive clicking pulse that unexpectedly fades before coming back into view as a dubby broil. The appearance of an organ signals a change in direction, with the track becoming a gleeful organ romp that evokes the image of a dancing bear or monkey at a carnival, or spirited mayhem at an Oktoberfest gathering.

Dedicated to his hometown of Seattle, Emerald's four tracks are as meticulously sculpted as anything on Lusine's 2004 Serial Hodgepodge album and Push (2003) and Inside/Out (2005) EPs. Emerald continues Lusine's exploration of vocal effects (voices become liquid washes in the title cut) but now adds a stronger electro emphasis to the mix (“Near Sight”). As usual, McIlwain's material rewards close listening with the intricate rattle and hum of machine detail visible beneath the surface: the multi-layered weave of whirrs, warm chords, and smeared voices in “Weaver,” for example, proves so engrossing one almost misses how cleverly McIlwain infuses the tune's 7/4 meter with a funk feel.

Though the Spectral Sound Presents series features new material by non-Spectral artists, the label would be wise to make Cologne's René Breitbarth a permanent roster addition if the two beautiful house cuts by the Treibstoff Recordings' founder are representative of his work. “Tales Medium” and “Steam Machine” are both gloriously lush mid-tempo tracks that envelop the listener with warm chords, gleaming synth accents, and languorously funky rhythms. Having just released The Conservation of Electric Charge on the label, Bodycode doesn't qualify as a non-Spectral artist but remixer The Mole does. Montreal-based Colin de la Plante lengthens “Hands Free Computer Interface” but doesn't radically transform the original beyond heightening its entrancing Afro-house character; however, doing so would be ill-advised anyway, given how incredible the Bodycode material sounds.

August 2006