Barbara Morgenstern: The Grass Is Always Greener

Except for an occasional phrase or two of English, Barbara Morgenstern's The Grass Is Always Greener is sung entirely in German. Listeners not fluent in the language needn't worry, however, as her vibrant electronic tunes communicate equally forcefully even if one hasn't a clue as to what she's singing about. Regardless, the album title and cover imagery signify a thematic preoccupation with travel and movement, and the songs reference Tokyo, San Francisco, Milan, Bangkok, etc. throughout: “Mailand” is German for Milan and “Juist” refers to a German island in the North Sea.

Rooted in succinct pop structures and elegant piano-based melodies, the disc's twelve songs couch Morgenstern's sultry, multi-tracked vocals in robust arrangements that glow with effervescent pop melodies. Electropop jewels like “Alles Was Lebt Bewegt Sich” and “The Operator” are synth-heavy wonderlands teeming with bright, surging melodies while “Polar” and “Ein Paar Sekunden” are elegant exercises in dramatic melancholia. Morgenstern's voice comes forth most nakedly on “Quality Time,” in spite of the intricate patterns of electro-synth melodies that dance around it. The rare instrumental “Die Japanische Schranke” ('Japanese Railway Gate') chimes and sparkles as sweetly as everything else, though morphs into dissonant shoegaze during its second half. The Grass Is Always Greener closes with an equally memorable instrumental (“Initials B.M.”) but it's perhaps the title song, with its warm trickles of analogue sparkle, piano clusters, ringing cymbals, and entrancing choruses, that impresses most. A rather unexpected yet beguiling foray into vocal-based electropop by Morgenstern.

June 2006