“Allien”, there’s a fitting last name. Say it aloud: “ah
-li-en”. It’s the familiar word “alien” said with a throaty German accent. Ellen Allien, on Berlinette
, displays her own alien brand of techno music, and it comes packaged with her own approximation of vocal Bjork-isms; a deep, straight-faced, robotic yawn-sing--and yes, with a German accent--that is often cut up into its own percussive breaks. Though she makes vastly different music from the two, she’s comparable to Radiohead and Animal Collective in that she essentially takes the “alien” and the foreign and transforms it into something recognizable--sometimes, even danceable.
The most comprehensive example of this lies in the opening and best track, “Alles Sehen”. On this track, Allien utilizes a strange sort of toyish drum loop and slowly expands it into an unexpectedly melodic beat, her breathy vocals in the forefront. The experience is similar to hearing something like Merriweather Post Pavilion
’s “In the Flowers” bloom into something exciting and beautiful out of seemingly nothing.
The main problem with Berlinette
, then, is that it almost overutilizes
the potential thrills of this strange/song dichotomy, where small, unmusical motifs are constantly being expanded into similar slices of minimal techno. Sometimes, a song’s blossoming will be just fine on its own but less impressive in the context of the surrounding tracks; other times, the songs never really feel full and are missing crucial aspects of Allien’s best tracks (the aforementioned “Alles Sehen,” “Sehnsucht,” “Augenblick”): a good melody, an engrossing rhythm, a general sense of motion. A few of the tracks simply go nowhere.
Despite this, Berlinette
is, for the most part, a very exciting listen and one that displays a musician with a keen ear for hearing hidden melodies and rhythms in odd places. When done right, this can lead to an exciting sense of exploring the outer limits of music. When done wrong, it just sounds like Allien is skewing actual good dance music (you know, the kind that you can dance
to) in favor of “experimental” ethos.