Phonocake Records (phoke93), 2013
There’s something very satisfying about listening to a record that just sounds great. Not everything needs to be draped with meaning or possessed of an unusual high-level concept. While these types of music certainly have their place, every once in a while, there’s nothing quite like indulging yourself with some serious ear-candy.
Hanne Adam has just the ticket. Transit Berlin, her fifth album as adamned.age, is a ninety-minute collection of glitchy downtempo IDM full of slickly produced rhythms and urban cool that makes your speakers seem like a portal to the chic of city nightlife. The album is well-named, for it’s the perfect soundtrack to cruising through the neon-lit bustle of some downtown center, through the crowds and constant activity and stimuli. Cuts like “Sektorengrenze” epitomize the album’s theme: a beat plods forward among a series of busily bubbling glitch patterns, with distant stabs of melody punctuating the backdrop. Imagine yourself in L.A., Tokyo, London, or yes, Berlin, and you can’t help but have this track winding through your system.
Along with the obvious increase in sound design, Adam has increased the beats and the mood. Past releases such as Whiteout (2009), planted the seeds of what would become the kaleidoscopic IDM of Transit Berlin; Adam has found and developed her signature sound here, moving past the experimentation of her earlier work. There are still beatless pieces of ambiance here – the muted reverb-soaked tones of “Im Hinterland” is a highlight – but she’s found her muse in the heart of Germany’s capital city.
And yet, there’s still room to improve. It’s tough to imagine adamned.age progressing any further along the lines of pure production values, as everything here has been pitched, modulated, and processed to a razor’s edge of clarity – I did mention this album sounds phenomenal, right? – but the album still struggles to escape the too-familiar trope of sounding artificial. Where artists like l’ombre and Integral have emerged from their IDM cocoons to take flight on the strength of the aesthetic and the personal, adamned.age doesn’t quite reach the same level with consistency. It’s here, on tracks such as the wonderfully meandering “Alexanderplatz” and the sly bass-driven title track, but it’s the lack of a reliable emotional connection that makes the album something of a chore to listen to actively from start to finish. Transit Berlin is marvelous as background music – perhaps a result of Adam’s involvement in multimedia production, film, and web design. It has a certain detachment in its mood, as if it is missing some series of accompanying images. The urban ballad “Stillsand in Bewegung,” with its mournful melody and sampled winsome saxophone, sounds like a facsimile of an emotive piece, rather than the piece itself. It’s the strongest example, perhaps, of why Transit Berlin remains disengaging in spite of its audio wizardry.
And yet, the album sounds so delectable, so finely tuned, with each piece of glitch like a flawless sparkling chip of ice and each beat a digital slice of perfected rhythm, that it’s almost forgivable. My ears are overwhelmed, but I can’t say the same for my brain. Transit Berlin is an album I want very much to like more than I do, and it is an album that sincerely tries its absolute best to slips the bonds of the synthetic. Adam is, obviously, a talented producer, capable of skipping her digital stones in hypnotic sparkling patterns across her virtual sea, but I still feel like it’s a place that’s only hers, and we’re all kept at arms’ length. I have faith, however, that she’ll learn to match her prodigious sound-design talents to the same level of emotional pull. When this happens, as I believe it will, adamned.age will enter rarified spaces.