Michaela Melián: Baden-Baden

On her first solo album, Michaela Melián (F.S.K. bassist and singer as well as a former Bauhaus Weimar and Academy of Art, Munich lecturer) creates an alluring style of ambient techno quite unlike any heard before. Hers is a somewhat gentler, even unassuming kind albeit one enhanced by unusual instrumentation and distinguished by compositional ingenuity. In the opener “Brautlied,” for example, her merging of music box tinkles, violincello, and Spanish guitar with techno beats produces a fresh hybrid. (Interestingly, throughout the album Melián contributes 'natural' sounds like organ, accordion, violincello, and guitar while Carl Oesterhelt handles synth and programming duties.)

In “Straße,” lurching bass lines, darkly hovering synths, and guttural choirs give the track an ominous, even teutonic feel. Like many of the tracks, the song unfurls languidly across nine minutes and moves slowly towards a churning, snarling close. (One explanation for the unhurried pace is that album tracks were produced as accompanying pieces to her art exhibitions.) Like “Straße,” “Ignaz Guenther House” slowly evolves through anthemic episodes of throbbing techno and cinematic ambience. The strongest piece, the aptly titled “Panorama,” does indeed encompass a broad landscape. Following a bucolic intro of placid guitar plucks and bowed cellos, delicately swaying rhythms emerge, transforming the piece into a remarkably lovely brand of country-house that lightly gallops across sunlit plains. Gradually the piece deepens into purer tech-house episodes, its extended cello tones heard beneath the skipping hi-heats and strummed acoustic guitar. (It's worth noting that Crackhaus pursues a similar country-house hybrid on its Spells Disaster recording, the difference being that the Montreal duo emphasizes the style's wackier side whereas Melián's more straightforward approach ultimately is more affecting.) At over eleven minutes, “Panorama” is long but remains arresting and captivating throughout.

While she shows unerring taste in her cover selection (Roxy Music's “A Song For Europe” from Stranded), she less wisely chooses to sing and, frankly, Melián's well-intended but amateurish vocal holds no candle to Bryan Ferry's classic croon. Admittedly, the dignified orchestral arrangement almost compensates yet the decision to sing ultimately seems a mistake. Given the proliferation of techno recordings, it's rather remarkable when an artist proves capable of reinventing the genre and personalizing it in distinctive manner but that's what Melián does on this consistently engrossing album.

December 2004