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Ellen Allien - Sool

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Artist: Ellen Allien

Album: Sool

Label: Bpitch Control

Review date: May. 19, 2008

Ellen Allien has never compartmentalized. In fact, her persistence as a techno standard-bearer of sorts is in part supported by her many pursuits: solo artist, label head (BPitch Control), DJ, fashion designer and, most recently, Time Out tour guide. But in her two ’08 releases, she's split.

Built from vinyl sides and cased in Allien's usual dreamy radiance, the crackling nocturnes of her recent Boogybytes Vol. 4 slink along a crisp carpet of throb. But Sool, her first album of solo material in three years, is something else. Largely devoid of techno's percussive ligament, that steady conveyor belt chug that effectively parades Allien's selections throughout Boogybytes, the clatter on Sool is set against steely, reverberant silence. A stealth move away from the bustling pleasures of dance music, it could be a transitional work for Allien.

The most drastic difference is the influence of producer Antye Greie, a.k.a. AGF. Allien diced, dashed and generally mutated her voice years before crossing paths with this prolific "poem producer." Instead, what changes under AGF's tenure is Allien's method of assembly. While past albums inched towards something like techno-fortified, glitch-sprinkled avant pop, Allien has now delivered a suite of noises and tones that deserves the library-catalog classification of "electronic music." While I can't say if Allien is really turning real dials or patching frequencies, the genre’s starkness is all over Sool's electric splatter of trembling specks and lucent trails. Tracks are comprised of a few scattered elements, spikes on the radar screen that clash in the monochrome night.

Entering though "Einsteigen," Sool briefly glimpses the world it'll wall off. Tape starts rolling in an Ubahn station and continues out onto city streets. But the indiscernible conversations and pattering footsteps are gently nettled by modulator spasms. By the time we reach "Caress,” everything is enveloped. Far from the tender touch of its title, the track is icy hot. Allien's trademark flutter-flickers – those stuttering jump-cuts of clouded voice – bounce to a tensely-taut lock-groove. On 'Bim,” a busted paleo-beatbox loop and gaseous spurts skirmish with Allien's helium-smeared gasps. "Sprung" slathers dubstep grease over the dot matrix serialism of a clipped thump. In its echoes of analog mechanics – the snap-clickety-snap of a camera shutter ("Ondu"), a Xerox machine shuffle ("Zauber"), the slow tear of cloth ("MM") – Sool eschews techno's megalopolitan CG vistas for an almost post-punk sensibility of fractured, dustbin futurism. Nowhere is there a reliable Allien anthem, those whirling cascades of crushed metal and incandescent melody that usually filled out at least a third of an Allien longplayer. The closest to such song-like formations is the relatively slight "Frieda,” a sketch of a ballad dedicated to Allien's recently deceased grandmother. But it seems an afterthought.

Hypnotically inert, Sool gives us Allien the austere lab technician. She's far more social on Boogybytes, but if I'm going to choose a side of Allien, I'll forego riding with her down those smoothly-paved, cleanly-merging lanes and head for a bumpy trip through the rutted trashscapes of Sool.

By Bernardo Rondeau

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