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Barbara Morgenstern - Fan No. 2

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Artist: Barbara Morgenstern

Album: Fan No. 2

Label: Monika

Review date: Nov. 29, 2010

It took a while, but with 2008’s BM, German electronica artist Barbara Morgenstern came into her own, leaving behind the awkwardness of her earlier albums and emerging as a class songwriter, someone who could hold her own alongside a figurehead like Robert Wyatt (who appeared on BM’s “Camouflage”). Fan No. 2 retraces Morgenstern’s career to that point, as well as presenting several new songs. It proves an odd theory I’ve pondered for some time: that artists working within the 1990s electronica paradigm often take much longer to find their true voice.

In this way, their careers are often pleasingly ass-backwards – instead of bursting onto the scene and then experiencing diminishing returns, artists like Morgenstern work by accretion, slowly building a body of knowledge and a grasp of their chosen art form. Early songs on Fan No. 2, like “Das Wort” or “Nichts Muss,” play out like melodies in search of focus. 2003’s Nichts Muss (the album) had Morgenstern on the verge of nailing it, though it took her another five years to write her anthem, “Come To Berlin.”

Here, the emotional weight is just right – sarcastic without being a downer, polemical but not dryly worthy, and sharply critical, but with a melancholy that justifies the tone. “Come To Berlin”’s lyrics address city planning in Berlin, moving through the psychological scars of "growth" in the city by way of architectural erasure, dropping into English only when allegorizing the flood of artists, ne’er-do-wells and chancers making the city the subcultural free-for-all it currently is – "Isn’t Berlin the place to be / Come to Berlin, this place is in." Throughout, Morgenstern is largely impassive, acutely aware of the shifting tides of Berlin’s cultural capital.

After “Come To Berlin,” Morgenstern teases us with three new songs, including a cover of Lennon and McCartney’s “Blackbird.” They’re all good, but there’s real poetry in the way she leaves Berlin behind and moves into the natural-world romance of the previously unreleased “Mountainplace.” Here, her veneration of peregrination ("I just want to take a ride on a bike / I just want to take you to a mountain place") is a welcome flipside to “Come To Berlin”’s cold, hard watch of gentrification’s topographical and psychical damage.

The accompanying disc, Enter The Partyzone/Plastikreport, a reissue of Morgenstern’s first two limited releases, is another reminder that she has taken a while to blossom. The brash, bolshy performances have a certain naive charm, but the songs aren’t up to par. A compendium of Morgenstern’s parallel career as a collaborator would have been more effective, tracing her work with Robert Lippok, Bill Wells, Annie Whitehead, Stefan Schneider and The September Collective, explorations that have nourished her songwriting. It’s an alternate history yet to be written, where Morgenstern uses the collective compass to regenerate her own art. Because in those collaborations, the grace of “Come To Berlin” and BM was surely nurtured.

By Jon Dale

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