If anything anchors Ellen Allien's work, it's her attitude, rather than a sound. From the icy abstraction of Sool to the playful indie-dance of Dust, from the leftfield techno-pop of Orchestra of Bubbles to her flamboyant take on house music on Watergate 05, the one constant in her work is a refusal to be boxed-in. She rarely repeats herself or looks to capitalise on previous successes.
The upside of this is honesty. You could admire Allien because, even if you don't like her latest tune or mix, you know it's coming from the heart. The downside? A certain lack of depth to her work. For all their flashes of brilliance, her albums tend to feel like conscious reinventions, each one a tentative debut rather than the assured work that someone with her experience should be delivering. Could her constant stylistic shifts be a clever cover for the fact that she has nothing original to say?
LISm may, finally, silence any such doubts. Originally commissioned as the soundtrack to a contemporary dance piece—which Allien produced with BPitch colleague Thomas Muller, then later reworked with Bruno Pronsato—it threatens, on paper at least, to be another interesting yet inessential curio, but for once, LISm clearly elaborates on styles and even specific sounds that Allien has explored previously, amalgamating them into a 45-minute piece that evolves like a beautifully constructed DJ set.
An ambient DJ set, that is—LISm is 90% beat-free—and one in which, freed from the constraints of songwriting (a fairly weak point on Dust), Allien creates something genuinely emotionally charged. She does so using a curious palette of ambient tropes: groaning noise, dustblown guitars, fragments of jazz, and finally, in an ecstatic closing section, droning, shoegazing electronica and crystalline sunrise techno. LISm is a sprawl, a circuitous meander, but one in which every second counts.