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2012 Review Round-Up: July

Berliner Barbara Morgenstern has been responsible for some of the loveliest music of the last decade or more, throughout a productive career that's seen her maintain a consistently recognizable aesthetic – balancing sweetness and warmth with a slight, distinctly Teutonic frostiness – while her sound has evolved from bleepy, toylike indie electronica to sprightly techno-pop to more fully organic, expressively artful songwriting.

Sweet Silence, her sixth proper (solo) full-length, tweaks that trajectory somewhat, returning to an almost entirely electronic palette (mostly understated drum programming and a battery of cuddly-soft synths) after the piano- and full-band-dominated BM. But it also finds Morgenstern honing her popcraft and scaling back her artier impulses to yield her most concise, song-oriented and – relatively speaking – immediate work to date. Except for three typically lovely, nostalgia-tinted instrumentals (which are themselves highly melodic), Morgenstern's distinctive, lulling coo appears on every track here and, notably, she sings exclusively in English for the first time. If that change is a bid for greater accessibility (Morgenstern has basically said as much in interviews), it's an appropriate choice in conjunction with the album's general musical tack, but, although Sweet Silence certainly could and should help introduce a few new ears to her secluded sound-world (and despite her boast, on the pleasantly frisky "Need To Hang Around," that "in the past two weeks I could have written tons of number one hits"), this isn't exactly Britney Spears (or Robyn, or even Goldfrapp) territory – Junior Boys, perhaps. Non-German-speaking fans may (or may not) appreciate the greater insight the English lyrics offer into Morgenstern's mentality. (Themes tend toward the philosophical, socio-political, gently inspirational and somewhat abstract – "Spring Time" is "when ideologies blossom"; the indicatively-titled "Jump Into the Life-Pool" contains such nuggets as "if life is a treasure itself then I'd still like to know am I myself" – while the plushly grooving "Night-Time Falls" offers a more personal, somewhat surreal narrative.) But in any case they don't significantly affect the experience of the album: Morgenstern's music is much more about sound than sense, and – particularly given her rather adorably prominent accent – her voice functions mainly as just another piece in her delightful sonic jigsaw puzzles, sometimes in beautiful harmony with itself. All of the aforementioned numbers are highlights – and no song here is without its own quietly quirky charms, though some take longer to distinguish themselves – but perhaps the album's apex is the penultimate "Status Symbol" (the only track to exceed four minutes), a sneaky charmer with vague shades of Pet Shop Boys' "West End Girls" that gradually works its way into a lather of darkly clubby beats; the album's most (though not only) overtly techno moment.

Fly Global über BM

Barbara Morgenstern is a new name to me but BM is her sixth full album release and it’s about time we got to know her better; and her special guest!

In truth, it was the Robert Wyatt credit that drew me to this one. If you’ve got this months’ Mojo magazine (the one with Lenard Cohen on the cover), you’ll have spotted a load of Wyatt related copy as his more than influential Virgin back catalogue gets reissued (notably Bottom and Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard).
Anyway, more of Mr. Wyatt later as back at BM there is a strange familiarity to the her approach and low and behold, sooner than later it’s Mr. Wyatt’s influence that’s gets you. O.K. she doesn’t sing like him but there’s oddness here and I can see how Wyatt would want to contribute.
The other credit that attracted me to this album was that of Bo Kondren. Who you say? Mr. Kondren is the regular mastering guy for Sonar Kollektiv so you’re right that this album was recorded in with Arne Gosh (drums), Sven Janetzko (guitar), Julia Kent (cello) and Barbara Morgenstern (vocals and piano).
A non-German album that’s not SK or minimal techno! Well, German minimal prog rock Wyattian. Ms. Morgenstern is comfortable in both German and English (‘Driving My Car’ is sung in both) and whilst on the subject, ‘Reich & Ber?ºhmt’ is like Reich (unsurprisingly) and a mellow Dresden Dolls (who are not German but are very ich bein ein berliner).
There’s also a big dollop of Kate Bush in this, ‘Deine Geshichte’ (with cellos to the fore) and ‘Monokultur’. As I failed German GCSE (many years ago), I’ve no idea what the lyrics are about and I suspect that’s a good thing as it all adds to the drama/intrigue of it all (what is the cover about?). Of course, there’s no issue with the instrumentals, ‘F?ºr Luise’ is a particularly emotive piano piece.
‘Camouflage’ is the co-written track and duet for Wyatt and piano; it’s so Rock Bottom and Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard with Wyatt’s scat -worth the price of the album for this track alone; play, play and play.
But don’t miss ‘Hochhaus’ as, this is perhaps the most like of the set, with a bit of jazz vibe or the electronically wiered ‘Jakarta’.
It’s hard to know what to make of this album (which is probably a good thing). If the great bearded one of Wyatt land thinks it’s worth contributing, that’s enough for me. That said, it’s not a one track album and I need to know more about Ms. Morgenstern.

 

Sweet Silence Review by AMG

Berliner Barbara Morgenstern has been responsible for some of the loveliest music of the last decade or more, throughout a productive career that's seen her maintain a consistently recognizable aesthetic -- balancing sweetness and warmth with a slight, distinctly Teutonic frostiness -- while her sound has evolved from bleepy, toylike indie electronica to sprightly techno-pop to more fully organic, expressively artful songwriting.

Sweet Silence, her sixth proper (solo) full-length, tweaks that trajectory somewhat, returning to an almost entirely electronic palette (mostly understated drum programming and a battery of cuddly soft synths) after the piano- and full-band-dominated BM. But it also finds Morgenstern honing her popcraft and scaling back her artier impulses to yield her most concise, song-oriented and -- relatively speaking -- immediate work to date. Except for three typically lovely, nostalgia-tinted instrumentals (which are themselves highly melodic), Morgenstern's distinctive, lulling coo appears on every track here and, notably, she sings exclusively in English for the first time. If that change is a bid for greater accessibility (Morgenstern has basically said as much in interviews), it's an appropriate choice in conjunction with the album's general musical tack, but, although Sweet Silence certainly could and should help introduce a few new ears to her secluded sound-world (and despite her boast, on the pleasantly frisky "Need to Hang Around," that "in the past two weeks I could have written tons of number one hits"), this isn't exactly Britney Spears (or Robyn, or even Goldfrapp) territory -- Junior Boys, perhaps.

Non-German-speaking fans may (or may not) appreciate the greater insight the English lyrics offer into Morgenstern's mentality. (Themes tend toward the philosophical, sociopolitical, gently inspirational, and somewhat abstract -- "Spring Time" is "when ideologies blossom"; the indicatively titled "Jump into the Life-Pool" contains such nuggets as "If life is a treasure itself then I'd still like to know am I myself" -- while the plushly grooving "Night-Time Falls" offers a more personal, somewhat surreal narrative.)

But in any case, they don't significantly affect the experience of the album: Morgenstern's music is much more about sound than sense, and -- particularly given her rather adorably prominent accent -- her voice functions mainly as just another piece in her delightful sonic jigsaw puzzles, sometimes in beautiful harmony with itself. All of the aforementioned numbers are highlights -- and no song here is without its own quietly quirky charms, though some take longer to distinguish themselves -- but perhaps the album's apex is the penultimate "Status Symbol" (the only track to exceed four minutes), a sneaky charmer with vague shades of Pet Shop Boys' "West End Girls" that gradually works its way into a lather of darkly clubby beats, the album's most (though not only) overtly techno moment. 

Sweet Silence Review in the Benzine Magazine

Avec le temps, Barbara Morgenstern a su proposer une électronica pop à la fois fraîche, accessible et touchante. Ce nouvel album ne déroge pas à la règle et permet à l’Allemande de continuer sa charmante entreprise de séduction.

La Berlinoise n’en est pas à ses débuts et fait presque figure de vétéran (pas de féminin à ce mot) de la scène électro allemande, comme Lali Puna ou Tarwater. En 2010, la Berlinoise avait sorti Fan n°2, une compilation regroupant quelques-uns de ses anciens morceaux et en bonus Enter The Partyzone, première cassette produite par la dame en 1997 ! Il y avait aussi 3 inédits dont une reprise des Beatles (Blackbird) chanté dans la langue de Lennon. Peut-être cela aura donné des idées à Barbara Morgenstern de chanter en anglais ; une première pour ses propres compositions.

Et c’est donc le cas avec Sweet Silence, un changement qui donnera envie peut-être à plus de monde d’aller écouter la Berlinoise (pour les récalcitrants de la langue allemande) mais qui finalement ne change pas l’essence et le style musical de Barbara Morgenstern. Depuis The Grass is always greener en 2006, elle a pris le virage la conduisant vers des compositions plus classiquement écrites – « pop » en un mot -, tout en gardant largement leurs instrumentations électroniques. Certains diront Sweet Silence ne fait que capitaliser ce qui a été semé par The Grass is always greener, meilleur album à ce jour, et ils auront sans doute raison. Mais, bon, il n’y aucun mal et à se faire du bien et ce dernier opus n’est pas du tout avare en bonnes ondes et en bons moments.

Au-delà de ses moyens, il y a dans la musique de Morgenstern un sentiment ambivalent trop rarement ressenti : d’un côté, l’on imagine l’Allemande jouée avec ses pistes d’ordinateur comme à Tétris ; de l’autre, on s’émerveille à ressentir à partir de cette synthé pop ludique, des trésors d’harmonies et des bonheurs de mélodies douces-amères. C’est particulièrement vrai sur Jump into the Life-pool et Status symbol, deux des grands moments du disque où l’Allemande ajoute à ses bips et ses synthés bubble gum, des lignes harmoniques et des nappes en mode mineur ainsi que des lignes de chant empreintes de la plus touchante féminité (celle de Springtime est un modèle du genre). C’est aussi valable sur les moments plus IDM du disque, celui où l’on se surprend à esquisser un pas de danse et que Barbara Morgenstern distille avec pointillisme, économie de la frappe et goût (Night time Falls). On peut craquer sur le jazzy Auditorium avec le Rhodes idoine. Même quand le morceau adopte mélodie et instrumentation pour le moins naïves, l’Allemande a la bonne idée de noircir ces ambiances un peu béâtes de guitares un peu tordues (The minimum says). L’Allemande a pour elle son bon goût, son intelligence et sa sensibilité. Que demander de plus ?

Interview with The Guardian

Radio Student über Sweet Silence

Nemška pevka in producentka Barbara Morgenstern je letošnji junij oplemenitila z novim albumom, ki ga je povila pod okriljem založbe Monika Enterprise. Album, idiomatično naslovljen 'Sweet Silence', je njen šesti samostojni po vrsti in nadaljuje po poti, ki se je v osnovi drži že mnogo let, a jo vedno osmišlja na novo skozi mnoge subtilne detajle. Morgensternova se je na sredini devetdesetih prejšnjega stoletja preselila v Berlin, kmalu za tem pa je že izdala svojo prvo ploščo in vse od takrat velja za stalnico na izvirnejši strani synth-pop scene. Večletne izkušnje je nabirala v različnih glasbenih skupinah, tudi zgolj vokalnih sestavih, in prek prisotnosti na dogajanju t.i. dnevnosobnih koncertov. Dandanes pa jo najdemo tudi v sestavu September Collective, kjer deluje ob boku s Paulom Wirkusem in Stefanom Schneiderjem - slednjega poznamo predvsem kot člana To Rococo Rot in nekdanjega člana zasedbe Kreidler.

Barbara Morgenstern je večino plošč izdala pri založbi Monika Enterprise, ki jo vodi legendarna berlinska eminenca Gudrun Gut. Založba deluje vsega petnajst let in pod njeno streho v veliki večini najdemo izdelke ženskih ustvarjalk, ime Monika pa je dobila v spomin samomorilski ribici gospe Gut. Dejstvo, da Morgensternova izdaja za založbo Monika Enterprise, pa pomeni tudi, da so v produkcijo pogosto tako ali drugače vpletena kultna imena, kot je prej omenjena Gudrun Gut, poleg nje pa med drugimi večkrat tudi Thomas Fehlmann in Stefan Betke, znan kot Pole, pa tudi Robert Lippok - še en član zasedbe To Rococo Rot, torej.

'Sweet Silence' prinaša trinajst razmeroma kratkih komadov, besedila celotne plošče pa so za razliko od predhodnic v celoti v angleškem jeziku. Album kljub svoji zasanjanosti in lahkotnosti ter iz njiju izvirajoči poslušljivosti v sebi skriva precej intrigantno poetiko. Subtilna melanholija, ki se vije skozi komade, deluje kot nadvse prikladna za pomladno-poletne dneve in tankočutno riše razmerje med notranjim doživljanjem in od zunaj se vrivajočo objektivnostjo. Morgensternova pa k sreči premore zadosti ustvarjalnih iskric, ki kljub intimni noti nimajo učinka postavljanja ustvarjalčevega ega pred ustvarjen material.

Naj zaključimo z opažanji, da so synth-pop ustvarjalci postali referenčna skupina za mnoge vzbrsti na glasbeni sceni. To nedvomno daje vtis, da se žal očitno prepogosto tolmači, da tale »pop« nujno pomeni banalizacijo v smeri neizvirnosti. Pomanjkanje spontanosti in pretirana želja po sprejetosti s strani širših množic? V nasprotju s tem pa Morgensternova skozi vsa leta uspeva ohranjati finočo pritajene pretanjene pretencioznosti … torej pretencioznosti v pozitivnem smislu, seveda. In dokazuje, da ne obstaja enoznačni recept, katerega bi se lahko držali kot »neovrgljive formule, ki obljublja«. Očitno zna biti pop precej »zagamana« zadeva in Barbara Morgenstern ga vsekakor uspeva risati z njegovega boljšega profila.

Indie-eye über Sweet Silence

Per i cultori della scena musicale tedesca, legata grossomodo all’area dei To Rococo Rot (Tarwater, Whitetree, Dakota Days, B.I.L.L, ecc.), Barbara Morgenstern non ha bisogno di alcuna presentazione. Attiva ormai da oltre quindici anni, l’artista si è ritagliata progressivamente uno spazio di primo piano, in virtù di uno spirito avventuroso, curioso, sempre aperto al desiderio di espandere il senso della propria musica in tutte le direzioni possibili, toccando ogni territorio del suono elettronico: dai glitches degli esordi, passando dall’impro dei September Collective, alle collaborazioni proprio con Robert Lippock e Maximilian Hecker, giungendo ad una propria personale forma di synth pop che la donna ha sviluppato di album in album sino ad oggi, raccogliendo consensi e piaceri professionali come il prestigioso duetto con Robert Wyatt (Camouflage da BM).
Dell’ampia discografia Sweet Silence è probabilmente il suo disco di più semplice ascolto, forse il più pop in senso lato. Di certo è il primo in cui la nostra fa uso del solo idioma inglese, tralasciando per una volta la madrelingua. Ed è lavoro di levità unica, morbido ed elegantissimo. Un tappeto percussivo elettronico che non cede un secondo, avvolto di synth dagli umori vintage, in una sintesi ‘80/’90/’00 di rara efficacia e profondità.
Su tutto poggiano le sue tonalità vocali da Joni Mitchell futuribile che, di volta in volta vengono dirette sui territori d’una Björk neo-minimalista (la titletrack) o sulle armonie Wyatt di Night Time Falls e The Minimum Says che per il resto sono puro To Rococo Rot sound.
A tratti, nella riformulazione delle algide armonie di ascendenza soul-jazz (essendo lei essenzialmente una pianista), affiora più di una similitudine con Agf; per esempio in Kookoo, sorretta da un sample ciclico che rimanda proprio a certe cose di Antye Greie-Fuchs con Vladislav Delay.
L’andamento da techno-dub prosciugata di Jump into the Life-pool e gli arpeggi euro di Need to Hang around si offrono come i brani più accessibili del lotto. Mentre Status Symbol gioca con gli stereotipi del club, aprendosi su un intreccio di glitches e voce che ad un terzo del brano cede interamente ad un ritmo tanto pulsante quanto leggero ed etereo. Così come la conclusiva Love Is In the Air, But We Don’t Care, che introdotta da un tappeto sognante di synth sembra alludere a dei Gus Gus dai volumi tagliati ed in certo qual modo anche la strumentale Hip Hop Mice, che fa da trait d’union tra il collettivo islandese (circa Attention) e la scuola mitteleuropea.
Spring Time e una tarantella al silicio e Highway è una splendida elegia wyattiana, che finisce per richiamarsi ai Sea & Cake, presentata come brano orchestrale ma l’orchestra non sembra discostarsi poi molto dal suono delle tastiere.
Sweet Silence è un disco fresco, brillante, adamantino. Non dice nulla che non sia già stato detto migliaia di volte ma lo fa con una purezza che rende ogni nota unica, ogni armonia fondamentale. E poi gode di una scrittura eccellente, forte della sua assoluta semplicità.
Nel migliore dei mondi possibili sarebbe un successo planetario.

Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung über Sweet Silence

Barbara Morgenstern gehört zu den Pionierinnen der Berliner Elektro-Szene. Seit mehr als 15 Jahren verteidigt die Keyboarderin ihren selbst gemachten LoFi-Elektro gegen die Techno-Übermacht von Clubs wie dem Berghain – und schafft es dennoch, mit jedem neuen Album ausgetretene Pfade zu verlassen. Ihr siebtes Werk verzichtet sogar auf die gewohnte Non-Konformität und überrascht mit eingängigen Melodien, die vor allem durch Morgensterns Gesang überzeugen, während im Hintergrund die Beats flirren und zirpen. Ausgesprochen sommerlich wirkt „Sweet Silence“ beim ersten Hören, doch verstecken sich durchaus tiefgründige Gedanken hinter der leichtfüßigen Melancholie.

Nach der Stille im Klang und den Höhepunkten der eigenen Kreativität forscht die Musikerin auf eine persönliche und intime Weise in ihren Texten. Und doch ist sie auch bereit, musikalisch unbeirrt in den „Live-Pool“ zu springen. Instrumentell untermalt sie die mal plätschernde, mal tänzelnde Lebensfreude mit Beats und Loops, die Brüche zulassen und doch melodiös unaufdringlich harmonieren. „Sweet Silence“ ist eine selbstgenügsame Platte, die keines großen Auftritts bedarf und deshalb umso nachhaltiger klingt. Für all diejenigen, die elektronische Musik fern von wilder Partyhopserei oder einfallsloser Chill-out-Lounge genießen mögen.

Thenewnoise über Sweet Silence

La storia musicale di Barbara è quasi sempre legata a un certo tipo di elettronica alternativa e qui non si fa eccezione, solo che – in qualche modo, anche grazie alla sua voce – tutto arriva più morbido. Sintetico, ma pop.  Per vecchi, magari, nel senso che se ne frega di cosa va di moda oggi, continua a guardare al proprio brodo di coltura berlinese, strizza velocemente l’occhio ai genitori Kraftwerk e ambisce (ancora più di prima? Troppo?) alla facilità, come forse del resto ci si può aspettare da una di quarant’anni, anche se conosciamo tante eccezioni alla regola. Sweet Silence, comunque, ha delle eccellenti melodie elettroniche e non se le gioca solo per uno o due pezzi sui quali puntare, riuscendo per tutto il tempo a tenere alta l’asticella della qualità: piace la svagatezza della title-track, posta all’inizio, così come la fuga solo strumentale di “Status Symbol”, che arriva una mezzora abbondante dopo, quando in mezzo ci sono già stati episodi divertenti come “Need To Hang Around”, “Kookoo” (notare gli auto-campionamenti vocali) e “Spring Time”. Barbara, dunque, si porta dietro il proprio genere di partenza, ma punta sulla scrittura per parlare a più gente possibile, non solo al suo giro. Il rischio, come sempre, è di annacquare tutto, ma non si direbbe questo il caso. Non si sta svendendo (e se si sta svendendo ha perso il momento giusto), si sta solo pacificando e per fortuna, ma qui dovrà deciderlo ciascun ascoltatore, lo fa con una manciata di buone canzoni.

Der Rolling Stone über Sweet Silence

"In the past few weeks I could have written tons of number one hits/ But I was sick – sick, hmmm", singt Barbara Morgenstern, und eine solche Zeile lässt man natürlich nicht liegen, wenn man über eine Platte schreibt. Vielleicht weiß die Berliner Songwriterin das auch. Sehr wahrscheinlich sogar. Denn auf "Sweet Silence" hat sie alles weggelassen, was unwesentlich, nicht berichtenswert ist. Mit Stimme, Old-Skool-Keyboard und ein paar Beats hat sie ein melancholisches, minimalistisches Meisterwerk aus mit Sade-Eleganz dahingleitenden Melodien geschaffen. Jeder Song ein Hit natürlich. Süßer als die Stille.

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