t’s been a while since I’ve taken German, but it’s not hard to see that Michaela Grobelny is a woman eminently concerned with the uneasy marriage of opposites. Her 2004 debut was entitled Schwarzweiss (Blackwhite) and now we have Bittersüss (Bittersweet). But while most producers tend to tip the scales to one side or another, MIA’s strength comes from her perfect balancing act—when she aligns the beat and melody just so, the results are scintillating.
So: why isn’t she namechecked alongside the Lucianos, the Hawtins, or the Mayers? It’s pretty simple, really. Because Grobelny takes such care in her tracks to measure the beat against the melody, there is rarely a situation in which a listener will jump out of their seat in surprise. Grobelny’s productions are exercises in songcraft; they’re rarely built to do much more than provide a perfect segue between flashier concerns. Like an early ‘00s Neptunes production, Grobelny gets her “oh shit!” moments in a key change or a subtle EQ tweak, rather than euphoric climaxes.
This may not sound all that sexy to listeners looking for the naked chick on the cover to get you off, but to hardcore techno heads Grobelny’s work is something of a revelation. By positioning herself midway between Cologne’s romanticism and Berlin’s hard edges, she’s figured out how to make albums perfectly suited towards home listening.
Stressing Grobelny’s subtlety shouldn’t take away from the fact that there are a number of “singles” here. “Safe Night,” for example was released last year and remains one of the finest incorporations of straight-ahead bass guitar into a minimal techno framework. “Swoon” makes marvelous use of a stunted phoneme for rhythmic accompaniment, while an acid synth twirls around trying to stay out of the way of high-pitched bells levitating above the fray. When Grobelny upsets the balance of power, however, things fall apart. “So I Felt”’s deep bass hits distract from its strident strings, while “Datalover” lacks a unifying feature to pull it together.
In a way, there’s almost nothing worse than releasing solid albums like Bittersüss that have no discernible hook or sound. If there’s an indie rock equivalent, I’d nominate the group Superchunk—a group that seemingly puts out a really strong record out every few years that everyone seems to enjoy, but no one ever feels compelled to talk about. Consistency is boring—and we could probably use a lot more of it.
Reviewed by: Nina Phillips
Reviewed on: 2007-04-19