Various Artists: Total 4, Ellen Allien: Weiss.Mix

Various Artists
Total 4

Ellen Allien

Here's a ready-made compare/contrast. Total 4 (the latest compilation from Cologne, Germany microhouse label Kompakt), and Weiss.Mix (the new mix-CD from Ellen Allien, who runs Berlin's Bpitchcontrol) begin and end with the same song. Total 4 comes to a close with Closer Musik's "Maria"; Allien's mix starts with it. "Maria" is a gorgeous tune anchored by a fuzzy electric piano; each time the song appears, it achieves a similarly wistful effect.

Not so the discs. Total 4 has the misfortune of following the most consistent volume of Kompakt's series, Total 3, and hearing the new disc with its predecessor fresh in mind diminishes its impact considerably. Compilations tend to thrive on juxtaposition and dynamic shifts, like a good homemade mix tape; or on a single continuous mood, like Total 3. Right now, Kompakt seems to be attempting to branch out a bit from the swooning beatscapes it's semi-famous for--the most notable example is Superpitcher's cover of Brian Eno's "Baby's on Fire," a straight pop song. The label deserves applause for trying to move beyond what we know and love them for doing, but listening to Total 4 often feels like witnessing someone in the middle of a confusing series of growing pains.

Ellen Allien, on the other hand, seems to know exactly what she's doing. The remarkably assured Weiss.Mix seems enticing but fairly distant at first: The chants of "Come to me, touch my body" in Sylvie Marks's "Baby I Am Electric" are less a come-on than a memo. Soon enough, though, come fuller, thicker cuts like DJ Maxximus/Something J's "Mercedes Bentley vs. Versace Armani" and Andrea Parker's "Freaky Bitches." And that's just to set us up for the out-of-body experience of the series of sere, clinical songs by Feadz and Allien herself. The reward? A stretch of warm tracks that end the disc, most spectacularly an Electric Company 7-inch that sends Aaliyah's "Try Again" through a dizzying laptop tumble-dry. By the time Superpitcher's "Tomorrow" appears, it actually feels like the sun will come out.

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