Ellen Allien, owner of the BPitch Control label and Fairy Queen of Berlin's more delicately woven rave music, has been tinkering with the sound of the city for over a decade now. What has remained from all these years – packed with great releases, highly original remixes and exploratory mix CDs – are her five monolithic albums, each the condensed result of a completely different creative phase – made to stand the test of time. Indeed, looking back, each of them in its own right can be seen as marking a piece of techno history. You just have to think back to the feeling of astonishment upon hearing Stadtkind for the first time. Or being spellbound by Berlinette. Or being pulverised by the ARP in Thrills. And let's not forget the superb collaboration with Apparat which resulted in Orchestra of Bubbles, perhaps the most beautiful indietronic gem to be produced in recent years. Now it already seems an eternity since Ellen Allien last remodelled her own sound with the sharp-edged diamond Sool in 2008 – a release which opened the gates to a far-off parallel world where minimalist artefacts float through the room with a cool elegance and distanced allure. Yet, just like each of Ellen's previous albums, this was followed by a cut. A metamorphosis. A reincarnation. With her new album, Dust, Ellen removes the sense of remoteness entirely. A warm immediacy takes centre stage in place of distanced artistic abstraction. As such, what is perhaps Ellen's most personal album takes the form of a complete spectrum of her creative output to date, a cross-section in time which also looks ahead to previously untrodden paths... The world according to Ellen.
Dust takes place between nocturnal excesses and the packed diary of a Berlin lady who not only manages one of the world’s most illustrious electronic record labels, but also raises a great deal of dust with her work as a fashion designer, a producer and a DJ. And whilst it sparkles pleasantly in the black light, this dust can sometimes make it difficult to see. But let’s be honest, no one can attain happiness without adversity, and even the most majestic tree wouldn't be able to stretch out its buds towards the sun if it weren't for those intermittent rainy days which have allowed it to reach its current stature. This may sound self evident, but the longer you are willing to mull it over, the more it opens the door to a little everyday philosophy which, for all its friendly naivety, may just make a few fates a touch easier to bear. Ellen certainly takes pleasure in “My Tree”, lying beneath its canopy, counting the leaves and allowing her eyes to be dazzled by the light glistening through. And whilst the bleeps prance on by, the introduction of the clarinet, as a classical element, ensures that some order presides over all the endlessness behind the clouds and keeps us anchored to the ground.
“Huibuh” feeds off a similar feeling, a perfectly tranquil synth-pop song which pays tribute to the most chilled of all Sunday afternoons with its own neologism. Melodic, sexy and self-content. Are you feeling huibuh yet? You will be soon, with an equally sun-drenched track like “Ever”, where the plucked synths and glockenspiels float adrift over an unobtrusive beat framework. And despite their rich variety, these sounds are blended into a funky groove of life-affirming bliss which will have everyone wanting to wear flowers in their hair. Ellen's “Dream” makes a more twisted entrance, yet in its abstraction retains a definite catchiness. Here the synths scale the walls whilst the trailing female vocals float searchingly through the unconscious depths. It's a complex and experimental track, but the approach never becomes too intellectual – after all, we know all too well that not everything adds up in dreamland. Ellen prefers to sing a duet with her pitched-down alter ego under the pleasant glare of the “Flashy Flashy” disco lights, where they both enjoy an unexpected encounter and catch a glimpse of the universe in the rings of the other's eyes. Despite the off-centre jingling of the synth in your head and the inevitable fuzziness, this house track trots along with such a light and breezy gait that you soon understand how you could happily spend three days dancing to this beat. Isn’t that all the world needs – a floating techno track with a few sparse, but clearly arranged elements? Like “Our Utopie”: the soundtrack to sunrise. Or as Ellen puts it: “The sky... the taste... we count 1... 2... 3... and we’re still here.” To listen to these sounds ringing and reverberating through the air is so lovely that no one would even think of opening their eyes. But life goes on and already you can hear the old school analogue synth of “Schlumi”. Beneath this a kick drum stutters into life before marching straight ahead, whilst the rave siren winds its way up to the surface until the walls start to ripple and there are no more right angles in sight. Yes, there are plenty of trials and tribulations in the fast-paced life of Mme Allien, who scurries from city to city, from club to club, and often only perceives the world in momentary images flashing past a window. Then it’s the same story the next day when the alarm goes off again, the bass drum is still pulsing at the back of her mind and the flight to the next city with its own images, sounds and faces awaits. “You” describes this odd situation of sitting alone in a taxi and nevertheless feeling connected with so many people, and it materialises into a splendid indie-pop track which comes completely out of the blue. An beguiling guitar loop like something half way between Zoot Woman and Phoenix, a Joy Division bassline, and then Ellen’s bright voice, singing with a fragility and cool-headedness that resists this rapid pace of life. Yet in the midst of this frantic activity there are also moments where fast forward is switched to slow motion and suddenly everything feels totally clear again. Someone takes your hand, smiles and the world stops turning. It’s that simple. “Sun the Rain” is the second synth-pop song on Dust, and this is another testament to the feeling that living in a state of sweet melancholy is not the worst way to be. A new path is certainly marked out here, one which leads so enticingly towards the lights of the big pop stage that you almost find yourself wishing to see the princess of Berlin techno making regular live appearances with a band. And then? The same question always remains at the end of the night: “Should We Go Home” Well, should we? Clearly this is meant more as a statement than as a question. After all, you can always find an extra hour to mentally prepare to say goodbye and to allow the events of the night to resonate through your limbs once more. But now the beat is only sporadic, somehow forcing its way through the darkness every now and again. Residual voices, involuntary rushes of goose bumps and a few melodic fragments, arranged here as ambient phase shifts piling on top of one another, manage to get under your skin one last time. It’s Monday. You’ve reached the end of the night and, yet again, you can hardly believe everything you’ve been through. What now? You’d better dust yourself off. It’s time to start all over again.
(added: 2010-04-28 15:31:12 )