VARIOUS ARTISTS: Monika Bärchen: Songs for Bruno, Knut and Tom (Monika Enterprise)


Posted on Mar 19th 2008 10:54 pm

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V/A: Monika Bärchen: Songs for Bruno, Knut and Tom

Monika Bärchen: Songs for Bruno, Knut and Tom
Monika Enterprise 2008
15 Tracks. 54 mins 44 secs

As the adage goes, wherever you bite a stick of rock, the word inside it is the same. And so it goes with this birthday prize of a compilation – wherever you look, the same eye-widening sense of newness and fun is on show. This tenth anniversary package of the German Monika Enterprise label is, perhaps unsurprisingly, not really what you would expect. Rather than resurrecting hip, effortless tracks that passed unnoticed a decade ago, Gut here brings together a collection of entirely new songs, all by long-time Monika stable-mates. But the intriguing thing is that, on first listen, this really does sound like a best-of in the worthiest sense – an album of career-defining classics. From Capri Sun electro guitar pop to underground polka techno, everything here just seems to fit.

It is a liberating album as much as anything else – one that, in just fifteen songs, sums up the casual, effervescent daring of the label itself. Amid the mass of plodding, one-tone compilation CDs propping up record stores on every street, here is an album that stands out, flamingo-like, from its contemporaries. It’s not necessarily that everything here even works, because there are occasions where the man in the laboratory seems to have mishandled the ingredients somewhat. Chica And The Folder’s rumbling, drum-driven foot-stomper Kleines Hoppla is funky, no doubt, but a little grating as well. And the bewitching Masha Qrella, who here offer the languorous, lighter-waving Goodnight Lovers, deliver a song so open and catchy that it somehow has nothing left to yield after the third listen. But to dwell on the weaker points would be as churlish and perverse as to endorse the surly, poker-faced muso-types this label stands against. Both Dorit Chrysler and Quarks volunteer strange, slow, almost Eno-esque numbers that are like a blast of cold morning air after the intense claustrophobia of Gudrun Gut’s Monika In Polen, where a traditional, rolling polka rhythm is pressed into service to give body to the ghostly wail of record players in distant rooms. Elsewhere, after the three cups of punch fizziness of Eglantine Gouzy and Landini’s L.A., there is the dreamy acoustic throb of Max Punktezahl’s Dashes and the whispering glitch-pop of Iris’s Fever. By the final quarter, though, the album’s helter-skelter mood-swings settle and an icy string of pop adagios plays out. The stand-outs are the shape-shifting, Björk-like I See A Soul by Mico and the stripped down instrumental candour of Wilderness by Barbara Morgenstern – both of which are simply far too accomplished for their own good. It is like they are brandishing their talent like sticking out a tongue. And, like many of the performers here, both are women – so that the sense of defiance this album has is as much against the drab male hierarchy as the music industry itself. With its rich inner landscapes, and its wild, bracing openness to the new, this is an album that seems by the end to shake a crayon-coloured fist at the all too moribund music market as the Monika label chiefs blow out the last candles on the birthday cake. Many happy returns, Monika Enterprise.


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