The Glittery Kind
German DJ demigoddess Ellen Allien has long been a tentpole artist for an often divisive genre (that ever-illusive “intelligent dance music” everyone keeps talking about). In her decade-plus career as an artist, producer and head of her own BPitch Control label, she has been responsible for some of the more subtly triumphant techno of recent memory, her peak still being her gorgeous 2006 collaboration with fellow IDM-cee Apparat, Orchestra of Bubbles. On DUST, her sixth studio album and first since 2008’s SOOL, the original Berlin-ette seems set on splicing the post-apocalyptic sparseness of that record with the alien warmth and accessibility of her Apparat work. The result finds her mining the same sonic stratospheres but with a slightly different sparkle in the sky.
Opener “Our Utopie” is lushly lithe launching point, beginning with a low throb bubbling over a chorus of chirping birds that recalls the tropical house textures of Björk’s Debut. That is before Allien’s electronically distorted whisper vocals slice through the airy atmosphere like an otherworldly transmission. A criticism often lobbed at Allien (and her genre in general) is the lack of vocals – let alone vocal range – in much of her music. DUST arguably employs her voice more frequently and with more variation than anything she’s ever done. “Flashy Flashy,” for instance, features Allien dueting with a demonically deeper version of herself in a manner not entirely dissimilar from Karin Dreijer-Andersson (Fever Ray).
Guitars also feature more prominently this time around in her music, with highlights “Sun the Rain” and “You” finding an alluring middle ground between Brit pop and M83 with the closest Allien has ever done to actual singing. These poppier moments recall her past Orchestral peaks most of all, while the percolating “Ever” and borderline bossa nova “Huibuh” suggest possible elevations of them. Nothing on DUST rewrites the rules of the genre, but Ellen Allien’s continued confidence and creativity with her trademark sounds do more than enough to assure that the IDM game is still very much afoot.