Chica And The Folder - Under The Balcony

George Bass 20/08/2007

Rating: 3.5/5

Monika Enterprise, the stud farm of lyrical continental folktronica and home to more experimental treats than Professor Weetos' chocolate room, have dished up another brilliantly skew-whiff delight in the form of Chica And The Folder's synthtastic sophomore LP Under The Balcony. Building on the heat-haze Eurodance and sloppy beats of 2003's 42 Mädchen album, Max Loderbauer and Paula Schopf take the myth that Germans are born without a sense of humour and dash it into oblivion with some hard-drive-crashing mischief and relentlessly slick production. Tracks like Angelus Novus are the perfect platform to showcase Chica's prickly combination of digital nostalgia and evil magic, as hilariously diabolical as Múm being molested by Paul Daniels, while more straight-laced foils catch the band getting all romantic to turn out round after round of potential soundtrack fodder. Huérfanos gargles a tongue-in-cheek mouthful of yearning midi and croaking pendulums, as five-point-one'd and widescreened as Giorgio Moroder's Scarface cues, and the deep blue summit of Monte Rosa abandons pop song parameters altogether to create a fantastic ambient landscape where celestial snowflakes bubble with carefully-measured bass mixers. If every nation on the continent could supply music like this in time for Eurovision, Terry Wogan would be rendered mute come BBC1's commentary night.

As with other cash-cows in the meat market of contemporary electronic songwriting, Under The Balcony's greatest asset is in its ability to encompass both technological experimentalism and oven-ready pop without accidentally alienating fans of either side. Industrial hide-and-seek gets wiped clean with a guitar squeegee on Sacrificio, while school-exchange flashback single All Inclusive features the same funky slabs as labelmate Gudrun Gut, resculpted to imitate a Eurotrash keyboard swallowing reels of silent film. Paula Schopf, meanwhile, sings like she's Ico's Queen at a wedding reception, working her Germanic vixen gloom to the max. Her voice steals the show altogether on Perfect Day - a sarky 7" front-runner that has little or nothing to with Lou Reed (except maybe the same wall-eyed snoop that followed Renton's carpet-sucking smack clanger in Trainspotting). 'On this perfect day/Full of clouds and rain/I would like so much to day/I don't want to live with you' is how she interprets Mr Rabinowitz's title, all delivered in her Black Forest gateau accent while a tetchy beat pounds gracefully behind her. Happy switches things round again with a slice of disco rescrambled for a lasery 80s convention, as icy as the jilted Miss Buena on Groove Armada's Song 4 Mutya and with a bassline worthy of Flash Gordon in mid-prance. Although given a graveyard slot in the running order, it could easily serve as the chart hook for the album, bursting with more sleazy Rolands than Hot Chip's The Warning LP broadcast on late-night Videodrome.

At twelve tracks across fifty-two minutes, Under The Balcony is a pop record first and foremost, but with a dark, adventurous dimension to it that could quite possibly have the Top 40 knob-twiddlers writing out a stern curfew. The three-minute song structures here have been given a carefully coordinated metal fatigue, bowing out in some places and hissing steam in others. In less perceptive hands, this could have easily become a tiresomely overproduced counterfeit, like the DisneyLand Paris version of LCD Soundsystem, but the fact that Chica And The Folder can do their their own thing with confidence and decorum is what marks them out as innovators in their own right, and authenticates their album as another sonic pearl in the trove at the far end of the Chunnel.