The techno-queen of Berlin returns with a record that showcases her penchant for pop.
Was the 2003 sophomore release from Ellen Allien, Berlinette, something of a fluke? Not to discredit Allien's penchant for creating pulsating dance tracks and helping bring the Berlin electro scene into the spotlight with her label Bpitch Control, but its fair to say that Allien hasn't come close to re-creating such success. The 2005 proper follow-up Thrills mainly towed the sound established on Berlinette, albeit with less accessibility. Her 2007 offering, Sool, was a darker and slightly moodier affair that lost steam and consequently its direction in layers of ambient haze that likely inspired you to head for the couch more than to the club. Yet, waist deep in arguably Europe's most exciting and progressive electronic-scene, it's fair to assume Allien would find her groove and return to excellence.
With Dust, it becomes immediately evident that if the electronic queen of Berlin is expecting to re-crown herself, then it won't be done re-hashing any sounds from her catalog. Don't expect too many club beats here. Instead, Allien swims through a sea of electro-pop that exhibits the producer/DJ/label-owner/fashion-designer moving outside of her scene and attempting to cross those never sturdy genre-bridges. "Sun the Rain" may be the most apparent example of this slight modification in style. Appearing in the middle of the record, the track begins with a simple electric guitar picking that might as well be the beginning of a Strokes song. However, as Allien talks/sings of taking walks hand-in-hand, the song builds off a simple drum machine while adding additional layers of synths and percussion. Eventually, the guitar builds and everything bursts into a well-balanced blend of electronic pop-infused, indie-rock perfect for Brooklynites and Berliners alike.
"You" is another quirky dive into Allien's pop-senses as she channels Goldfrapp or even the brighter moments of Broadcast mixing traditional rock instruments with electro-beats. The departure in these tracks may seem vast, but they still retain a techno-sensibility that allows Allien to maintain the crowd where her sound was originally cultivated. With the upbeat tempo of "Flashy, Flashy" backed by a rhythmic tin-can pulses and the eerie, chill-out samba "Huibuh", Allien further assures the retention of her club-going faithful even more.
Yet on the whole, Dust is a relatively playful affair for Allien that does a good, if not slightly pedestrian job at fusing together a rock-vibe with its electronic cousins. By now, it doesn’t come as such a huge surprise to see Allien adding new sounds to her exploratory career. Despite the jump to something a bit more pop, Allien still, for the most part, plays it relatively safe, leaving the LP slightly stilted and unexciting. A little more risk-taking that unfortunately never takes place could have done the techno-lady of Berlin some good and would have pushed Dust past the state of being passively pleasurable to something exciting and noteworthy. Nevertheless, Dust will probably find itself on heavy iPod rotation through the summer months, which seems perfectly fitting for this easy-breezy release.