Ellen Allien: BoogyBytes Vol.04

[5 June 2008]

By Timothy Gabriele

As the cliché goes, any great DJ set is supposed to initiate a journey on the part of the listener, dancer, and/or participant.  Founder and vanguard artist of Germany’s much lauded B Pitch Control label Ellen Allien curates the fourth journey into her imprint’s BoogyBytes series.  BoogyBytes Vol. 04 subscribes to a narrative not normally suited to vanity projects like this, which are often tailor-made for the club, chillout room, or other public party sphere.

Allien’s mix here is driven by a steady discotheque pulse, but its impression is subjugated in the mix by the whims of the producer.  The four-on-the-floor rhythm on Allien’s hand-selected tracks is less of a motivational command than a metronomic stop watch for adventures. The album’s momentum is psychogeographic rather than punctilious to the standard functionalist GPS topoi of clubsters everywhere. 

Ideally, BoogyBytes Vol. 04 is that rare mix-tape for the headphoned wanderer.  Its selections are uncertain and uncommitted.  The songs lack the euphoric luster and quiet release usually accompanying albums that fluctuate as wildly as this one.  Often, the pieces featured here seem to be creeping around the margins of melody, with intricate glitches and ghost howls playing just as vital a role as the hook on most tracks.  The album’s sole goal is to go further, with no concern about getting back home. 

Fittingly then, the album is a globetrotting trek along the Trans-Europe Express with stops in Amsterdam, Italy, Germany, Spain, Sweden, and a few detours to exotic locales like the Solomon Islands, Argentina, and, of course, techno’s home state of Michigan.  Despite the internationalism exhibited, there are no real homegrown idols, apart from perhaps Allien’s countrymen Sascha Funke and Ricardo Villalobos (each of whom contribute disappointingly tepid, though functionally appropriate entries here).  A brief perusal of the library at discogs.com reveals very few releases available by most of the featured artists on this mix, making BoogyBytes Vol. 04 a great source of exposure for a number of musicians who are truly on the verge.  This should hardly be a shock to anyone even peripherally acquainted with Ms. B Pitch Control.

Home base for the album is the opening track “Liniendicke” by self-proclaimed poemproducer AGF, who also produced Allien’s latest album, Sool. The lead-in for the song is jump-cuts interchanging English with German and referencing various unassociated linguistic elements like “object”, “block quote”, “slash”, and “movable ty-eee-pe” in a thick, reverse-echoed accent.  Heavy dub thuds smash the madness temporarily before slowly formulating into something resembling a dance beat accompanied by a one note arpeggio, a single bird chirp hitting on the whole notes, and what can best be described as a stack of ruffled digital papers. 

The epileptic monotony flows perfectly into Vera’s “In the Nook”, which only slightly steps up the minimalism by adding a loop with three notes rather than just one.  It’s not until four minutes into the track, the album’s seventh minute, that a rhythmic pang comes in on the off-beat.  Until then, there’s only a very slowly ascending and descending glacial whole note to guide the loop.  It’s a style so sparse it makes Pole sound like the Polyphonic Spree.  Allien’s careful use of gradualism at the album’s beginning allows the rest of the mix to fester and meander with a relatively low viscosity.  Though BoogyBytes Vol. 04 features several oscillations in temperament, it never does so at the expense of sonic explication.  That is, until the very end.

Little Dragon’s “Twice”, in isolation, appears to be the perfect end to a mix priding itself on diversity.  The polar diametric to AGF’s staunch word scramble and machinal alarm-sounding, “Twice” blows in all fuzzed-out glitchy white noise and ambient vocals before harmonic synth bass and a pendulum piano line sweeps in sans drum kit.  It’s a gorgeous, rich track whose mournful vocals invert the industrial dynamic of much of what precedes it.  Up until this point, one of electronic music’s major criticisms, that it’s a little too Aryan-friendly, antifunk, and anti-African, is mostly splayed across the EQ boards.  Though truth be told, there’s plenty of soul in these machines.  It’s just punctuated so economically that the occasional breakout syncopation, like in Lucio Aquilina’s “My Cube”, whose jazzy swagger vaguely resembles an iambic Squarepusher jawnt, seems revolutionary within the context of the album’s subtleties.

The problem with “Twice” is that it’s a kind of a deus ex machina.  After all the external tension (the lonely twinkle of Gaisser’s “Withdrawl”, the unsettling bleep bop of Friendly People’s acidic “Music Is Improper (Damien Schwartz Remix)”) of the album that leads up to the finale of “Twice”, I don’t buy the way the mix collapses into the idyll.  It’s an anti-resolution, the seven lingering minutes of birth pangs from the album’s commencement never getting their logical antipodal denouement.  And though things slow down on Kassem Mosse’s somewhat unproductive “A1”, which precedes “Twice”, it never feels like Allien earns her way out of the persistent beat, which has, by the final stretch, gone from portentous to pivotal. 

BoogyBytes Vol. 04 is a contradictory force at work.  It exhibits a wide range of styles within a concise framework.  Though those styles are differential, they are blended together seamlessly as if they were all cousins sitting together at the family reunion.  Separately, it’s hard to think that Andres Zacco & Lucas Mari’s loose collage of alien echo and ominously atonal Oldfield-via-Morricone tubular bells on “Carbonela (Seph’s Vidrionela Remix)” sit so well next to Melon’s wonderfully simple ambient house cut “Nitzi (In My Mind, So Fine)”.  Sozadams’s “Eyes Forlorn” warbles about and fucks with its aluminum melody, off-color synth strikes, and farty digital drums to such a corrosive level that it you can see how it makes sense for Richard Seeley’s “Juicy Vermin” to scutter in, infesting the track like pests with no respect for or to the beat.

It takes time to find its feet, but even when BoogyBytes Vol. 04 is staring downward striving for some bipedal locomotion, it’s still fun when it stops and gazes at its navel on the way down.  Once in motion though, it’s tough to look back.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/ellen-allien-boogybytes-vol04/