All in all, Ellen Allien isn't doing anything that hasn't been done before. However, on her sophomore release Berlinette, she simply does things well enough that they stand out greatly in a sea of artists doing somewhat similar things. In explaining the sound of Berlinette, I know that I'm going to be getting a little bit off-target, but please bear with me for a moment while I tell a little story.
A couple years ago I heard that Kraftwerk was working on new music. I've been a big fan of the group for a long time and hoped that their new material would sound somewhat similar to their old work, yet update that sound with new production techniques and sounds. After hearing Expo 2000 and their newest Tour De France material, I wasn't completely disappointed, but a little part of me was hoping for something more. To put it more simply, when I was imagining what the new Kraftwerk material would sound like, it was remarkably similar to what Ellen Allien has done with Berlinette. She takes sounds that most people have heard before, somewhat simple melodies, and absolutely amazing production and has turned it into an album that's been in heavy rotation in CD player since I got it.
Opening with "Alles Sehen," the listener gets a nice dose of what the release does so well. A slightly off-kilter beat (but still good enough for the dancefloor) pumps along while some slight resonation adds a ping to it and swirling electronics boil up before more fluttering noises float the whole track on a warm bed of sound as slightly processed vocals curl out another melodic layer. "Sehnsucht" follows up with a slight variation. More warm beats, nothing too flashy, but without being simple, while quiet synths swirl and chopped-up vocals stutter out lyric-less vocals that add a warm human touch despite their slightly robotic sound.
The only real mis-step on the album is, "Push," and it's mainly because the less subtle content of the song both lyrically. Mixing in some old-school rave sounds, the track bounces like something off an old techno compilation while rather base lyrical phrases (the only words repeated are "push" and "kick ass") spit out as accentuation. Fortunately, the album recovers quickly, and is off into the awesome "Trash Scapes". With lyrics that are again in english, Allien laments history repeating itself while rather juicy cut-up electric guitar riffs add even more growl to the thick track.
Perhaps the best track on the album is "Wish," though. Mixing a techy hip-hop beat with haunting synth phrases and splintered acoustic guitar, Allien repeats a simple phrase hoping for a better future without "wars and cars" (again echoing the simple lyrical turns of Kraftwerk, although in direct opposition to their well-known "Autobahn"), while the instrumentation adds a slightly melancholy backdrop. While you're not going to find anything groundbreaking lyrically, the simple statements and subtle manipulations actually play in favor of the release. There's nothing too flashy going on in general with Berlinette, but everything is done so well that it doesn't really matter. Either way, this is a great follow-up album, and one that will probably find itself somewhere in my year-end list.