Reviews of new CDs by Ada, Ellen Allien, and Ricardo Villalobos
My Parade: DJ Mix by Ellen Allien
Thé Au Harem D'Archimède
So you're in your little room, and you're working on something good. But if it's really good, you're gonna need a bigger room. And what phrase says "little room" more literally than "microhouse," a substyle that suggests infinite variety on the head of a pin? Over the past half-decade, the term has become as much a description of what the music isn't--obvious, cheesy, anthemic--as what it is: subtle, slow-building, cocked-eyebrow sly. Thing is, most of the music's heavy hitters want to escape the little room of insider snobbery for the bigger room of pop (or at least semi-popular) appeal--and they want to do it without sacrificing too much of what makes the best of it churn.
Frequently, a goal like this requires the usual kinds of crossover tactics, like remaking well-known material in its own image: Most infamously, Superpitcher mauled Peggy Lee's "Fever" on his seasickeningly uneven Here Comes Love, released earlier this year. But when Cologne's Ada, one of the sharpest DJ/producers in the field, includes a tingling house version of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Maps" on her debut album, it sounds like the most natural thing in the world. That's partly because Ada's surprisingly nuanced singing is one of the album's strongest features--and partly because "Maps" shares the same opalescent production of cuts like the Everything But the Girl cover "Each and Everyone (Blindhouse-Mix)" and "Livedriver" (sweep-and-crack percussion on the former, 3D bells on the latter).
Ellen Allien doesn't sing on her new album, but she doesn't have to. Continuing her winning pattern of alternating an album of originals with a DJ mix, the Berliner's new My Parade works as a goof on her native city's biggest dance-music event--the annual Love Parade, a trance-dominated outdoor DJ festival--and a statement of personal purpose. As Nick Sylvester of Pitchfork points out, 10 of the 13 cuts here are the B-sides of the 12-inches from which they stem. Unlike 2002's great Weiss.Mix, which leaned toward detailed minimalism, My Parade is bigger and bashier; it's no surprise that two of the best cuts are titled "Rave Anthem" and "Cheap Thrills" (by Modeselektor and Apparat, respectively).
If Ada and Allien are committed to making microhouse macro, Spaniard Ricardo Villalobos doesn't have to think about how he got started in his little room. If Thé Au Harem D'Archimède is any indication, he's downsized to a closet. But he finds acres of nuance in his self-imposed confines. Opener "Hireklon" puts the lessons of avant-folk guitar master John Fahey to better use than a police van full of spare-changers-cum-Wire magazine cover subjects, with a Twilight Zone-worthy acoustic line that curlicues on top of itself over a pitter-clapping beat and cozy single bass notes. On "Hello Halo," the clip-clop rhythm rises (just barely) above what appears to be the jibber-jabbering of a dozen contact-miked beetles and occasional drop-ins from some pitch-bended bells. And on "True to Myself," Villalobos even sings--not as prettily as Ada or as officiously as Allien, but in a woozy scat that feels appropriate to his project. He sounds like he's singing to himself, in his little room, wondering not how to get out, but where to stack the laundry.
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