Ellen Allien SOOL

[Bpitch Control; 2008]

Styles: gritty minimal techno
Others: AGF, Thomas Brinkmann, Matthew Dear, Apparat

No one reps her hood like Ellen Allien. On her 2003 solo album, she announced herself as a Berlinette in the title, but on her newest long-player, SOOL, she does so more subtly, with field recordings of the Berlin subway cycling beneath an insistent electronic pulse in the record’s opening seconds. On 2005’s Thrills, Allien evoked jagged, barren cityscapes, dazzling listeners with hot bursts of icy colors, as if she were dousing an abandoned warehouse in acetylene sparks. SOOL’s urban tableau is even more skeletal, like a map of the very subway system Allien samples on the first track (“Einsteigen” : “boarding”) or the stippled cloud that adorns the album’s cover.

Each song here consists of a buried constellation of beats moving in resonant circuits. There’s ample space for the listener to contemplate the emotional intent of the sounds: touches like the loopy clarinet theme of “Zauber” and the phantom cooing of “Caress” can sound both humorous and menacing within the murky interstices. “Its” channels the dystopic party vibe of Thrills and infuses it with an innocent squirrelliness, its pinball pips and squeaks streaking out above the reverberant mechanics that propel the track forward. It’s the most idiosyncratic track I’ve ever heard from Allien. “Frieda” shows a debt to frequent Allien collaborator Apparat -- it’s a breathy ballad that coasts upward, despite a watery vocal performance, on accumulating cloudbanks of strings, fleeting glockenspiel melodies, and sure-handed dashes of glitch. “MM” is perhaps the best consummation of this record’s strengths; here Allien somehow pares her sound down to its skittering essentials while also finding the palette to experiment and diversify the emotional range of her music.

The economy of the record lends it seriousness; playfulness is the gateway to its curious subtlety. Never one to sit still, Ellen Allien shows us on SOOL that she’s an artist who is perfectly at home while shuttling outward. She uses technology that is as dark, imposing, and utilitarian as a subway train to trace delicate paths through the musical zeitgeist of her home city. It’s an itinerary worth following.

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