Ellen Allien & Apparat - Orchestra of Bubbles

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  • At first glance the pairing of Ellen Allien and Apparat may be something of a surprise with the two on somewhat different musical trajectories: Apparat exploring a highly emotional IDM sound while Allien raves up dancefloors with her distinct brand of noisy pop techno. However their music is more similar than you would think. Both are residents of Berlin (Allien even markets herself as a born-and-bred native), and in a city famous for its transplanted DJs and producers, the pair come closest to producing a uniquely "Berlin sound": a fractured, broken soundscape informed by pop structures but for the dancefloor, tempered by an occasional moodiness. In fact they have collaborated before: Apparat is humbly credited as producing "some drum sounds" on Allien's 'Berlinette', though rumour has it his hands were all over it. Apparat usually releases on his own label Shitkatapult but he also pops up on Allien's Bpitch, most notably with his 'Koak' 12”. The idea of a fully-fledged pairing then is natural. The only surprise is the explicit double billing hasn't come sooner. The result is 'Orchestra of Bubbles', an album of faintly-tinged melancholic glitch that carry the listener along with electronic textures that bounce and bubble. The two artists complement each other: Allien’s minty-cool vocals and muscular dancefloor rhythms mesh well with Apparat’s fractured glitches and beats. Opener 'Turbo Dreams' catches them in the act with its throbbing bass, buzzes whirs and electric guitar riffs combining to create a feeling of speed. Turbo indeed. The album moves through a number of styles: 'Retina' and the grimestepping 'Metric' have sampled cello, 'Do Not Break' is full of scratching, the melody of the stately 'Edison' could be a zither, and 'Leave Me Alone' is a pop ballad plain and simple. Yet the album is unified by the lurking rhythms that burble, bounce, and bubble through it, lending it a vibrant buoyancy. This is clearly seen in 'Jet' and 'Floating Points'; the latter bounces around like a ping-pong ball. Surprisingly, the album has only four vocal tracks, pop-like structures mostly sung by Allien with Apparat singing the happily mournful ballad 'Leave me Alone'. On 'Way Out', one of the album’s standout tracks, Allien's vocals slide then soar up the register over a distorting electric guitar and quick beats. Closer 'Bubbles' is a wonderfully muted affair with Allien’s whispered voice gliding across a cool landscape. Allien and Apparat complement each other well but they are meeting in the middle and the album sometimes misses the most interesting extremes of each artist. Apparat pulls back on the glitches, creating a smoother ride than usual, but as a consequence the album never really hits the more intense and emotional fractured depths he usually plumbs. Meanwhile, with a couple of exceptions, the album never cleans up the dancefloor in thorough Allien fashion. Nonetheless, 'Orchestra of Bubbles' is a strong home-listening album. One hopes that the pairing of Allien and Apparat is an orchestra that will play on and compose more symphonies.