VA: Monika Force
Monika Enterprise

Founded by Gudrun Gut in 1997, Monika Enterprise celebrates its 40th release with a diverse sampling of songs by Barbara Morgenstern, Cobra Killer, Chica + The Folder, Masha Qrella, and more. The comp (19 songs split between album tracks and numerous 7-, 10-, and 12-inch cuts) emphasizes the label's engaging brand of electro-pop as opposed to its clubbier side (the few dance tracks include Dinky's disturbed techno-house mix of Chica + the Folder's “Daleko” and T. Raumschmiere's chugging shuffle overhaul of Komëit's “3 Hours”). While there's ample stylistic range afoot (compare the grungy guitars and barked vocals of Cobra Killer's spacey New Waver “L.A. Shaker” to Michaela Melián's techno-fied mix of music box tinkles, violincello, and Spanish guitar in “Brautlied”), much of the material couches its vocals in simple synth-pop settings.

The 70-minute set opens with five superb tracks, takes a mellower instrumental dip in the middle, and then finishes strongly in the last third. At the outset, Chica + the Folder cheekily transforms Eno's classic “I'll Come Running” into a spectral synth-pop lullaby. Figurine's gorgeous electro-pop “Connections” follows; that it sounds so great shouldn't surprise, given Jimmy Tamborello's (aka Dntel) participation (under the name Jimmy Figurine), but what you'll remember most is the coupling of the female's feathery vocal with the male's smooth baritone. On the mellower tip, Florida contributes “The Girl On The Escalator,” laconically jubilant electro-pop full of celestial keyboards, while Tobi Higgs gives Masha Qrella's “I Want You To Know” a lush café folk treatment. Also noteworthy is “Mein Freund der Baum” (My Friend the Tree), an early collaboration between Berlin DJ Manuela Krause and Pole. Betke's dubby contributions help conjure a dramatic ambiance that evokes the mystery of nocturnal Berlin. Following instrumentals by Komëit, Contriva, and Barbara Morgenstern, the collection regains its punch with an hypnotic Dntel makeover of Morgenstern's “Aus heiterem Himmel.” After a melancholy intro, the song ascends to a sparkling plateau of synth shimmer and buttery vocal accents, before Morgenstern's vocal pushes through the rippling static at its close.

Given the number of female artists involved, a feminist agenda of sorts can be discerned, perhaps one more covert than otherwise, but it's hardly delivered militantly; instead, the message is clothed in the subversive allure of shiny electro-pop. Nowhere is that more tantalizingly apparent than on Morgenstern's remix of “Burka Blue” by the Burka Band, an Afghani all-girl band whose song attracted some measure of global attention. The song is charmingly funky synth-pop that relays its socio-political message humorously and subtly, yet still clearly and forcefully—one more memorable moment from an album with more than its share.

March 2005