On any given Saturday night, as New York kids belly-up for deep wallpaper house at CentroFly and fashionable electro-nostalgia at Luxx, stateside techno music slips deeper into a holding pattern of sophistication and mediocrity. But way over the pond, a gaggle of New Europeans are taking machine-funk to another level. Ellen Allien, a diminutive genius from Berlin, may be the best: unlike just about any current operator, male or femme, she fuses the paper-cut noise of glitch with fierce, brainpan-scouring beats.
Her Stadtkind, from 2001, was a masterpiece, equal parts electro-descended thump and funky static-splutter. Her new one, Berlinette, is a bit more forgiving, and allows for melody between the sequencer snicks. The album skitters and pounds along underneath a modicum of pretty touches: The shivers of acoustic picking in “Wish” are like hearing a flamenco guitarist through Venetian snares of soundproofing material. Allien’s name puns on the German for “alone,” as if to say, “We’re probably the only ones in this universe, fellas.” And she uses what’s sensuous about glitch—splintered rhythms suggesting a machine on the verge of shaking itself apart—and leaves behind exactly what isn’t interesting: namely, a boys’ club fascination with software showboating.
She also talk-sings over the beats, as if she’s making pop music. Berlinette (especially the wintry “Sehnsucht”) has a breezy, bittersweet quality, and the lyrics—about friends, dreams, identity—are abstract and psychically restless. Her most direct line—”Need a planet without cars and wars/I wish it could be true”—is almost certainly about the here and now, which is striking only because so much techno avoids saying anything. Like the pun in her name, Allien’s music suggests that, if this is the only planet we’ve got, we need to get right with the present, people.