DVAPreviously Bristol-based but now residing in Berlin, Emika’s self-titled debut album  two years ago was a study in contained, claustrophobic vocal dubstep.  I’m not talking about the stuff that catapults you onto the ceiling because of the sheer force of the bass wobble but a smaller, more accessible art pop alternative. It was quite low-fi and often beautiful with a palpable sense of menace. “DVA” is less reliant on dubstep, a genre so omnipresent now it is merely predictable (see latest offender, Kylie’s “Skirt”) and has been partially replaced by a more straightforward electronic sound with an orchestral slant and inspiration.

The tone is very firmly,  but also somewhat misleadingly, established by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra’s appearance on the brief introduction track “Hush”, also featuring an operatic vocal by Michaela Srumova, never to appear again here. The fanfare of synths that opens “Young Minds” mimics the classically-structured arrangements that are at core of “DVA” and I say mimic because this is a predominantly electronic and not acoustic album. Apart from on one other track, the intricate and mournful “Dem Worlds” at the album’s centre which is just violins and Emika’s stranded vocals, strings are introverted and subtle and peek through  only occasionally with mainly piano and keyboard melodies creating a more traditionally classical sound.

“She Beats” is spooked and monotone, spoken word electro dub followed by “Filters” where separate piano and synth melodies make compatible companions. “Sing To Me” has a major dubstep whomp and “Centuries” is medievalist electro pop as perfected by Natasha Khan.  “Searching” begins as a misleadingly sweet sounding r’n’b girl group pop song, albeit in a minor key, and contains the surprising lyric ‘look into my eyes, tell me where your thoughts come from, Bitch’.  This track brings to mind more than anyone else Charli XCX  who successfully subverted the nineties girl group genre on her recent album although Emika does so in an even more fractured way here.

Throughout Emika’s delicate but unrefined and muddied vocals seem too keen to stay in the background; they  are often pitched way back in the mix and are at times whispered, played backwards and, in a year where there has been some excellent synthesiser work by the likes of Miss Kittin and Adult, some tracks sound under produced and dull. An anaemic cover version of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” only highlights  “DVA”’s flaws with bored and boring, semi-inaudible vocals and a flimsy soundstage and after a far stronger first half there are more of these far less engaging tracks to be found as the album’s considerable running time gets into its final quarter.

“DVA” does not fully live up to its initial, early promise of drama and clear-headed statements of a formal and electronic nature. Although Emika is a vocalist who may have a style of her own, it’s one which doesn’t always fit easily into the bold sonic stories she appears to be trying to tell here. Tracks that work well, and there are several, are more of a continuation of the dubstep, trip-hop sound of her debut and can stray closer into pop here. Emika is an unusual  artist, certainly, who will need to gain the confidence required vocally to at least bring a more expansive and dynamic sound to the fore and allow her to fully inhabit the fascinating and unsettling worlds she seems desperate to share with us.

Electroclash’s First Lady, French DJ and singer songwriter Miss Kittin’s third solo album is a 2 CD affair but is also her most straightforward collection of songs to date. Her schizophrenic  debut  “I Com” and its more underground follow-up ‘”Batbox” were both idiosyncratic, humorous, hard and dark albums but neither quite matched up to the brilliance she had already achieved with The Hacker (“Frank Sinatra”), Felix Da Housecat (“Silver Screen Shower Scene”) and Golden Boy (“Rippin Kitten”);  between 2001 – 2003 Carline Herve was the go- to ‘featured artist’ and in demand collaborator and was one of the main characters and artists that defined that short-lived, exciting era and one of the few that is also still recording today.

“Calling From The Stars” is consistent, high quality electronica; there is no radical departure here so don’t expect any surprises. The second disc is really a stand-alone piece (“Part 2”) that is largely instrumental and ambient and not essential but the main album has some nice highlights, and for the first time is completely self-produced. Elements of classic, early house music blended with supremely melancholic synth lines appear early on with the rolling, chunky “Come Into My House”, appropriately enough, and also on the equally solid “Bassline”.  “Maneko Neko” is staccato, deadpan electro pop, very reminiscent of her earlier work, as is “Blue Grass” which actually sees the Kittin harmonising with herself towards the end. She also sings REM’s  “Everybody Hurts” as a pretty, faithful to the original ballad, albeit completely electronic, which is interesting to hear maybe twice but serves as little more than a novelty cover.  “Tears like Kisses” is another slower track but one which comes with explosions, a beat box, laser guns, and Kittin, none too convincingly, singing ’ I’m crying because I’m happy’ and sounding fantastically lush and full against the jagged, chilly sound effects. There are actually too many slow tracks here, oddly, and unlike the majority of her discography, although she does reference discotheques here, she never once breaks into a sweat. In fact this is so polished, so elegant that I wonder where the earlier personality has gone; lyrically some eccentricity remains but sonically, this has been pretty much eliminated here.

I have read that this is Miss Kittin’s attempt at something more mainstream and pop, uncluttered and pure. To a point this has been accomplished and tracks like “Bassline” and “Tears Like Kisses” will definitely find fans, although I’m not sure how many new ones. A lightness of touch is missing that could have transformed some of these tracks into something that could have been a more deadpan, a grown-up version of somebody like Robyn, or Kylie even .  It’s nice to have her back but to really re-establish herself as a vital, relevant presence in a pretty crowded electronic scene which has moved on considerably from a decade ago, one way or another this Kittin really does need to let rip again.