John Darnielle likes this album, and because he's a pretty cool guy I figured I'd give it a listen. Verdict: It's nice. Chilly zip-zap synth blips and distortedly textural guitar-noises are humanized -- and therefore redeemed -- by Morgenstern's voice, solid melodies and body-warm piano (or maybe it's just a keyboard made to sound like a piano, whoknowswhocares). When the songs stray toward the predictable, the Berlin-based Morgenstern tends to reverse course (the ambient-like-a-sunrise "Das Schöne Einheitsbild" is suddenly reinforced with a steely funk bass line about halfway through), or she'll simply trot out another gimmick from her sonic bag of tricks (like the My Bloody Valentine guitar moans that haunt "Alles Was Lebt Bewegt Sich"). Regrettably, that bag of tricks begins to feel stale around the eighth track, "Ein Paar Sekunden": Draggy instrumentals -- including the ditzy experimental track "Mailand" -- make up most of the final five songs. In other words, you could say that on the album's much stronger first half, the grass is most definitely greener. Wocka wocka wocka.
Time Out NY über Fjorden
Berlin's Barbara Morgenstern may have named her first album, 1998's Vermona ET 6-1, after her East German-made organ, but her music is far from fetishistic about technology and gadgets. You feel she's had sounds swimming around in her head forever and that she simply found that particular organ perfect to transcribe them. But cute as it was, Vermona ET 6-1 feels like a rough draft compared with its astonishing follow-up, Fjorden.
It's no coincidence that Morgenstern's name often pops up in conjunction with the cult German band Malaria. The Monika Enterprise label is run by Malaria founding member Gudrun Gut, and Morgenstern and Chicks on Speed both remixed the Malaria track "Kaltes Klares Wasser" on a split EP. But although Morgenstern places herself in a continuum of musical innovators, calling her music retro would be both inaccurate and simplistic. On "Wir auf der Flucht," for instance, the rain falling steadily in the background may bring to mind Virginia Astley's 1982 album, From Gardens Where We Feel Secure, which featured sounds recorded in the countryside, but here the rain is put in a slightly different context, bringing along a new hybrid we might call electronic pastoralia.
Even when Morgenstern gets as dramatic (sort of) as she does on the opening track, "Tag und Nacht," she remains appealingly intimate and modest. With Fjorden, she proves that she belongs to the small circle of artists who can create impressionistic moods on pieces of canvas, those who can suggest worlds with a camera and some celluloid. Flirting with genres and textures, Fjorden scrambles live music and samples, studio recordings and found soundsit may well be the musical answer to the blue hour, that serene in-between moment when night melts into day. Like the blue hour, Fjorden is elusive, but its genuine warmth and immediacy can pull in just about any listener.