Ellen Allien

Nost

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Berlin techno queen Ellen Allien generally uses the album format as an opportunity for experimentation, with results ranging from guitar- and vocal-heavy indie crossover material to 2013's LISm, a 45-minute piece composed for a French dance production. Of course, she's never stopped pumping out straightforward club 12"s, typically averaging two per year since making her debut in the mid-'90s. 2017 full-length Nost is much closer to being a collection of the type of tracks she normally releases as singles, and is easily her most club-friendly album. All tracks are seven minutes or longer, and they all seem cleanly structured, with steady, hypnotic beats and evenly paced builds and reductions. As a vocoderized Allien states on the opening track, "this is not a mind journey, it's a body journey." Her brand of semi-robotic sensuality (and sly sense of humor) is most evident on "Jack My Ass" and "Call Me," two more tracks which feature her vocals, but only in the form of repeated phrases rather than full lyrics. The album's title is meant to imply a warm sense of nostalgia, but the album incorporates throwback elements in a subtle manner, rather than constructing an obvious or over-the-top pastiche. Standout "mma" begins with a suspenseful sequence bringing to mind Front 242's "Headhunter," but not overtly ripping it off. As the beat builds and progresses, a bright but somewhat blurry rave synth pad surfaces, triggering a bit of an ecstatic rush, but not in a cartoonish way. "Physical" is a tad bit darker, and takes a very long time to build up filtered trance arpeggios and slowly rising dark synth-clouds. The album ends with perhaps the most overtly retro-sounding track, "Erdmond," flashing back squarely to the Artificial Intelligence era of non-rave (or post-club comedown) ambient techno. Lighter beats and more atmospheric synths bubble up to the top, and easily recognizable samples of the first moon landing emphasize the nostalgia factor. Nost might not be quite as surprising or risk-taking as past Allien full-lengths like Berlinette or Thrills, but it's still a well-done set of back-to-basics techno.

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