It no longer feels necessary to introduce Marcel Fengler as the underdog of the Berghain roster. In the wake of 2011's excellent Berghain 05 mix CD and a string of inventive singles, the Berlin mainstay is making the leap to the album format that his fellow residents Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock did with great success a few years ago. Running with the melodic tendencies that have defined his recent singles, Fokus predictably takes its sights off the dance floor. What it zeroes in on instead is songcraft and texture—its sonorous tones make for one of the more beautiful albums to come from Ostgut Ton. Instead of merely adapting his style for home listening, Fengler has bravely reworked it from the ground-up.
The best moments on Fokus feel like stained glass, hard but shaded in beautiful colours. Fengler prefers a broken beat for his album, from the bitcrushed Autechre-isms of "Mayria" to the thrashing "King of Psi." Each track is based around a similar loop that subtly morphs and mutates, avoiding the simple build-up-and-break-down techno formula. Atmospheric songs like "Distant Episode" and "Trespass" feel like they're made from liquid, floating through each bar as if by osmosis. And when he does decide to bang it out, the results are mesmerizing: "Jaz" moves with all the angelic grace of vintage Aphex Twin, anchored by a hearty four-to-the-floor thump.
Several tracks on Fokus are beatless, and Fengler is more than graceful in these moments. His approach works because these songs aren't just interludes bridging the dance floor tools together. Rather, he lets them stand equal, an unexpected move from an artist who so far has mostly worked within the established confines of techno.
Most of all Fokus is plush with an emotion that we don't usually associate with the Berghain brand. This comes to a climax with the closing "Liquid Torso." Completely ambient and shuddering with deceptive low-end, its white-hot streaks make it more powerful than any of the beat-driven tracks. Touches like these elevate the album from your average techno full-length into something ethereal and otherworldly, held up by feeling rather than rhythm. With Fokus, Fengler proves that sometimes it's better to have your head in the clouds than your feet on the ground.