Ellen Allien


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Ellen Allien's sixth full-length in just under a decade is something of a hybrid affair, revisiting familiar territory for the producer while also flirting with a few new ideas (guitar rock, tropicalia, songwriting) as befits her noted capacity for subtle reinvention. Decidedly more approachable than the austere, mechanical Sool, but often equally distant from the warmly embodied, melodic techno that comprised Orchestra of Bubbles, Dust's core aesthetic is a relatively stripped-down, minimalist version of electronic pop. Admittedly, Allien has her own, perhaps somewhat alien, understanding of "pop." Vocals feature significantly throughout, creating the album's most coherent throughline, and while her thin, electronically warblified voice doesn't particularly lend itself to melody, it carries an intriguing glimmer of personality. Indicative of its nebulous character, Dust is divided ambiguously between cuts that are clearly "songs" and others that feel more like "tracks," with most falling somewhere in between. The former category includes overtly guitar-based outliers "Sun the Rain" and "You" (one a pretty, surprisingly conventional shoegaze tune, the other an almost non-electronic piece of poppy, melodic post-punk) and the breezy bossa nova-tech of "Huibuh" (an unexpected yet natural fit for her whispery vocals). These sit alongside striking but structurally unembellished dancefloor workouts like the instrumental "Ever," with its no-frills house thump and shimmering cascades of bell-like organ tones, and the hypnotically sparse, Latin-infused breakbeat funk of "Dream." Cheeky stomper "Flashy Flash" is an enjoyable throwback to Berlinette's hooky electroclash, but the album's most appealing, humanizing moments tend to be subtler and less forced: the gentle clarinet chorale that pops up in the final minute of "My Tree," the kitchen-sink playfulness of shape-shifting closer "Schlumi." Ultimately, each piece offers its own discrete charms and its own limitations. Differently inclined listeners may find some tracks too rote and uneventful, others too meandering and unfocused; likewise, Allien's evident inclination to have it all ways at once could come off as a timid or tepid, a failure to strike a strong, distinctive course for the album. But there's something inviting about her willingness to dabble and play here, trying on various stylistic hats and embracing the pleasures and potential pitfalls of each. Despite the considerable range she explores here (and the presence of yet another collaborator, veteran producer Tobias Freund), it's never difficult to hear the Ellen Allien in each of these tracks; the sound of one of electronica's most alluring chameleons growing a bit more comfortable within her own skin.

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