Barbara Morgenstern

Nichts Muss

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Another album, another leap forward for Barbara Morgenstern. Nichts Muss, her third Monika album, is a refinement of her past work as she scales back the electronics a bit while at the same time shifting her voice and piano further into the spotlight. This subtle shift transforms her previous style of indie electronica into fashionable techno-pop, thereby making her music all the more personalized and musically distinct. Cooing the German language in such a way that will surprise anyone who thinks the language is uniformly unpleasant to the ear, Morgenstern now sings on most songs as her piano playing adds an extra touch of melody. Hence the pop aspect of her newly refined sound. As for the techno aspect of the equation, German dub-techno whizzes Stefan Betke and Thomas Fehlmann aid with the production, and while their assistance seems minor, the electronic backbone of each song does seem in greater relief than on albums past, with flurries of microsounds complementing dubby beats. These composite rhythms lock into place well, to the point where Morgenstern now has become danceable, or at least rhythmic enough to invite compulsive foot-tapping. Plus, throw into the mix touches of electric guitar, such as the driving riff of the epic title track, and the recipe for Nichts Muss is clear: understated techno rhythms topped off with touches of melodic piano, driving guitar, and whispery singing. Furthermore, the first three songs are even structured like pop songs, with nice hooks and everything. Then comes the aforementioned title track, and from there the album drifts from instrumental soundscapes to vocal tracks intermittently, the tempos ever changing and the moods likewise -- much like on her previous album, Fjorden, which also kicked off with a few seductive gems before meandering toward darker, more lulling excursions as the album progressed. So in some ways, Nichts Muss follows the template of its predecessor. Yet the subtle shift from straight-up electronica to a more refined techno-pop style is a notable one, and it results in a more personalized album and consequently a distancing of Morgenstern from her peers. With Nichts Muss, she's carved out a precious little niche of her own.

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