Barbara Morgenstern

Sweet Silence

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Berliner Barbara Morgenstern has been responsible for some of the loveliest music of the last decade or more, throughout a productive career that's seen her maintain a consistently recognizable aesthetic -- balancing sweetness and warmth with a slight, distinctly Teutonic frostiness -- while her sound has evolved from bleepy, toylike indie electronica to sprightly techno-pop to more fully organic, expressively artful songwriting. Sweet Silence, her sixth proper (solo) full-length, tweaks that trajectory somewhat, returning to an almost entirely electronic palette (mostly understated drum programming and a battery of cuddly soft synths) after the piano- and full-band-dominated BM. But it also finds Morgenstern honing her popcraft and scaling back her artier impulses to yield her most concise, song-oriented and -- relatively speaking -- immediate work to date. Except for three typically lovely, nostalgia-tinted instrumentals (which are themselves highly melodic), Morgenstern's distinctive, lulling coo appears on every track here and, notably, she sings exclusively in English for the first time. If that change is a bid for greater accessibility (Morgenstern has basically said as much in interviews), it's an appropriate choice in conjunction with the album's general musical tack, but, although Sweet Silence certainly could and should help introduce a few new ears to her secluded sound-world (and despite her boast, on the pleasantly frisky "Need to Hang Around," that "in the past two weeks I could have written tons of number one hits"), this isn't exactly Britney Spears (or Robyn, or even Goldfrapp) territory -- Junior Boys, perhaps. Non-German-speaking fans may (or may not) appreciate the greater insight the English lyrics offer into Morgenstern's mentality. (Themes tend toward the philosophical, sociopolitical, gently inspirational, and somewhat abstract -- "Spring Time" is "when ideologies blossom"; the indicatively titled "Jump into the Life-Pool" contains such nuggets as "If life is a treasure itself then I'd still like to know am I myself" -- while the plushly grooving "Night-Time Falls" offers a more personal, somewhat surreal narrative.) But in any case, they don't significantly affect the experience of the album: Morgenstern's music is much more about sound than sense, and -- particularly given her rather adorably prominent accent -- her voice functions mainly as just another piece in her delightful sonic jigsaw puzzles, sometimes in beautiful harmony with itself. All of the aforementioned numbers are highlights -- and no song here is without its own quietly quirky charms, though some take longer to distinguish themselves -- but perhaps the album's apex is the penultimate "Status Symbol" (the only track to exceed four minutes), a sneaky charmer with vague shades of Pet Shop Boys' "West End Girls" that gradually works its way into a lather of darkly clubby beats, the album's most (though not only) overtly techno moment.

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