Since the release of her first record in 1995, Ellen Allien has proven to be a highly versatile artist. Over the course of her career, the Berlin producer has consistently come to techno from different angles. Her first full length, 2001's Stadtkind, explored mechanical minimal techno, while her last LP, 2010's DUST, ventured into jagged avant pop. Her latest effort, LISm, might be the biggest change-up she's thrown to date.
To start with, most of the LP eschews techno's rigid beats for freer forms, even wandering into jazz and tribal drum pattering. And although LISm is identified as an album, it only features a single song—one wandering, amorphous, 45-minute-long song. Originally, Allien composed the track to accompany a dance piece that was performed at Paris' Pompidou Centre in 2011. Since then, the BPitch Control label boss adapted the composition to function as a full-length effort, although her edits retain the experimental and meandering spirit of the music's original incarnation. Neverthless, LISm remains a particularly mesmerizing listen, traveling through an impressively wide range of sounds and seamlessly blending them into a unified compostion.
LISm progresses in movements. The first three minutes serve as an introduction, building from a lone, swirling flute melody into a nebulous swamp of flowing and chirping noises. But then the murkiness clears a little, and Allien coaxes in a twanging, four-note guitar loop, which signals the start of a bluesier stretch. These kinds of sonic shifts happen throughout LISm, as Allien deftly navigates between different forms and genres.
Often, the song's disparate movements are separated by stretches of ambient haze or loop-based minimalism, which makes the piece seem like it's constantly falling apart and putting itself back together in a new form. About 20 minutes in, rattling hand drums fade away, leaving only a sustained droning note in the mix. Soon after the tribal percussion seeps out of hearing range, sashaying jazz drums appear from the ether, accompanied by a dilapidated horn. Later on, the music melts into extended synth pads and strings, which halt and transition into a period of introspective piano noodling. Throughout LISm, Allien sounds peacefully adrift in her influences and the sounds that she fancies, both in terms of the instruments used and the arrangements employed.
Following a journey through a host of different sounds and inspirations, it seems that Allien arrives at her most natural and practiced form of music by the end of LISm, when she rolls out pretty, psychedelic, and neatly organized techno. Faraway wind-chime-like notes arise from a searing ambient grit, heralding the arrival of a punchy kick drum. This final movement into sparkling beats and hooting synths displays the producer's experience at making dance tracks; while the earlier experiments in jazz and guitar loops are definitely pleasant and surprising, it quickly becomes clear that Allien's forte has always been techno. As a closing volley, it shows that Allien knows how to follow the conventions that govern and shape the genre, which is perhaps why her choice to experiment with and disassemble those structures turns out to be so successful.