Always competent, but never thrilling, Dust — the newest album from Berlin House maven Ellen Allien — is a modest effort, the sort of record that is respectable, but consistently fails to get the blood pumping. Having largely abandoned the experimental minimalism of her last full-length, 2008’s Sool, Dust finds Allien dipping a toe into synth-pop waters, dabbling in conventional pop structures; her willingness to expand into new genre territory is commendable, but more often than not, Allien’s efforts amount to little more than treaded water.
Dust’s most distinguishing characteristic is its attempted immediacy, but that immediacy also makes it feel indistinguishable from many other electronic pop albums. The more traditional electronic compositions prove most satisfying, while the attempts at conventional synth-pop make only brief, painless impressions. When Allien returns to familiar territory, like on the beatless, evocative second half of “Should We Go Home,” her work feels more deft, less mechanical than on songs like “You,” the closest approximation of pop-rock on Dust. The proliferation of vocal-based tracks on Dust do Allien a disservice; her delivery is uncannily reminiscent of Karin Dreijer Andersson, but unlike the Knife/Fever Ray frontwoman, Allien does not possess the knack for melodrama. Those electro-pop songs, like “Sun the Rain” and “Huibuh,” are oriented around Allien’s disaffected vocals, and are therefore doomed to be utterly delible, which is to say, immediately forgotten, tossed into the recycle bin of the sub-conscience. Though hardly irksome or troubling, much of Dust simply feels to slight to be worthy of any strong opinions.
Indeed, the brevity of these songs often prevent them from becoming any more interesting that what they initially appear to be. It’s not like this is a major change from the majority of Allien’s official recordings; she’s always been an efficient composer, but on Dust, the brief length of the songs belies a lack of ambition, a lack of depth. Rather than reward returns, Dust feels as flat on its fifth as on its first time through. There are too few unexpected transformations, late convergences, or coalescences of rhythmic strands, and too many missed opportunities. There is an unmistakable sense that some of these songs, like “Ourutopie,” are a 12” club mix away from relevance; in hemmed, shortened form, they feel instead like dwarfs of their intended selves. Ultimately, Dust’s pleasures are as modest as its disappointments; if a failure, it isn’t quite interesting, but it’s certainly not embarrassing either.