by: Ellen Allien

The icy, minimal Sool is quite a departure for Berlin's beats queen Ellen Allien. Where most of her previous releases skewed to the dancefloor, this 2008 quasi-collaboration with fellow Berliner Antye Greie (aka AGF) is a more experimental, inward affair. While there's plenty of deep bass and tribal rhythm at work, the BPM are quite low and each song is structured more like a scientific formula than a body-rocking anthem. Fans of Allien's previous work looking for lush, organic sound collages might be taken aback by these 11 tracks that skew closer to an art installation or an ambient abstract film score. Operating in a vein similar to IDM artists such as Autechre and Matmos, Allien uses samples and effects reminiscent of light industry, everyday utensils, and distorted horns and strings to craft a kind of fever dream vaguely touching on technology and the quick pace of urban life. Opener "Einsteigen," a found-sound open mike of what seems to be people milling about an airport accompanied by basic effects, in some sense cleans the palette of Allien's electro past, giving notice that things will be different here. "Caress" harks a bit to the dance scene and "Elphine" changes the pace a bit with its foot-stomping tempo and ping-pong aesthetic, but even on the latter the duo breaks down the track midsong to keep things off-kilter and menacing. Most of the tracks score life in the digital age, where instruments real or synthesized saddle up to tinkered, twisted sound effects like electric razors, sci-fi splooshes, and robotic heartbeats. Thinking or worrying seems more in order than dancing. The mournful Durutti Column-like "Frieda," a tone poem memorial to Allien's deceased grandmother featuring a melody, guitar, and hushed vocals, feels quite distracting jammed amidst the fundamental electronics and skittering tension of the album's other tracks. Early critical reviews claim Sool becomes resoundingly personal and deep on repeat listens. While such hyperbole can usually be discarded offhand and take into too much consideration an individual's emotional state, it is a grower that does reveal its charm over time. There's quite a bit of nuance and tenderness buried beneath the cold veneer, so playing the album at a considerable volume is also a good idea. Dance fans looking for another Allien beat-fest can mostly steer clear, and though there's nothing revolutionary about Sool, it's a solid first step into experimental minimalism for the artist. ~ Tim DiGravina

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