Silvia Jiménez Alvarez finally follows up 2017's enigmatic nu-EBM tome 'Weightless' with a dumbfounding left-turn for Berghain's Ostgut-Ton imprint. "A World of Service" isn't techno or EBM, it illuminates Alvarez's staggering voice as it flirts with trip-hop, radio pop, grunge and industrial metal. Unexpected doesn't even come close.
Since the release of her acclaimed debut album for iDEAL, Alvarez has been touring constantly, building a reputation as a live performer and challenging, lithe DJ. So when lockdown hit, it provided her with the time she needed to finish an album that's been years in the making. 'A World of Service' is named after her now-defunct monthly radio show, and retains its sonic philosophy. The Spanish artist has never wanted to pigeonhole herself: she grew up with an obsessive interest in music that never began and certainly doesn't end with techno and electro. It doesn't even begin and end with dance music at all.
Her latest material is rooted in the pop forms that crystallized in the 1990s on alternative radio and MTV, and her dynamic voice is the glue that binds it together. Unlike so many of her peers, Alvarez's shift from electronic producer to enigmatic frontwoman sounds fated. Raw, unprocessed Spanish words lurch into view on 'Camelo', after 'Birds You Can Name' introduces the album on a curly instrumental electronic fake-out. 'Camelo' is the stylistic link to 'Weightless', and accompanies Alvarez's powerful vocals with grinding industrial noise and torched half-speed trap percussion. From here, we're funneled into the album's defining run, beginning with Autotuned lounge sizzler 'Luis' that sounds like a robotic re-interpretation of Sade via Kanye's peerless "808s & Heartbreak".
Title track 'A World of Service' might be the most improbable move for Alvarez. Described in the press release as "pandemic-era trip hop", it's a sultry, pristine slow burner that reminds of the moment where trip-hop started to poke into the mainstream with hybrid acts like Dubstar and Olive. And with clubs shuttered for the last couple of years, it makes sense that the genre's half-tempo crawl has began to resurface. But JASSS saves the best for last, teaming up with Berlin's Zíur on 'Wish', an industrial grunge anthem that sounds like Garbage's towering first couple of albums.
The Berlin underground's relationship with pop has been confused (and often antagonistic) over the years. Here, the union is flexible and candid - perfectly in tune with Alvarez's interests, obsessions and strengths. It sounds like the beginning of the next chapter of her creative story, and might be the most unlikely release on Ostgut-Ton thus far.