Ellen Allien: Thrills
BPitch Control

Press info accompanying Ellen Allien's Thrills provides insight though not perhaps in the manner intended. Informed that Allien's Berlinette “introduced her techno to a wider audience,” we're told in a clever inversion that “she now turns around and exposes that wider audience to her techno” in her third studio album Thrills. Rather than illuminating one of the new album's strengths, however, the observation instead pinpoints a weakness. Put simply, Berlinette seduced the listener by enhancing Allien's Euro-styled techno with distinguished songwrighting; the new album shifts the focus to clubbier tracks of less melodic distinction. Consequently, while Thrills sounds marvelous, it also sometimes sounds generic, specifically in those tracks which downplay her melodic gifts.

The good news is that its best moments equal Berlinette. Slathered in scarred guitar shudders and writhing acid stabs, the gothic anthem “Come,” for example, is as inviting as its title suggests. And, while vocal cuts bear Allien's unique stamp more conspicuously, certain instrumentals impress too, specifically “She is with Me,” a distinctive tech-house outing dominated by belching acid burble and house-flavoured piano chatter, and “Naked Rain” whose stuttering minimal beats and echoing synths suggest more Cologne than Berlin techno. Best of all are two vocal tracks “Down” and “The Brain is Lost,” the latter powered by a thwacking snare slam, meaty acid synths, and a vampiric vocal mantra. The hypnotic electro-techno-funk of the presumed Kraftwerk homage “Down” overlays a potent vocal chant (“Don't break me down”) onto beats hijacked from “Numbers” and “Tour de France.”

But there are moments that impress less. Though “Your Body is my Body” conjures an ominous Berlin ambiance, it's ultimately less a song than a grinding club jam, and “Ghost Train” rolls out with an appealing electro-chug but then does little else. Soaked in multiple layers of dramatic doom-laden synths, “Washing Machine is Speaking” flirts with generic Euro-techno and, if there was one term that never applied to Berlinette, it was generic.

So, yes, Thrills does evoke the dank, dense warehouses of German and Detroit clubs and, yes, Allien's sonic palette now includes the Roland 808 and the ARP 2600. But there's too great an emphasis on club tracks and instrumentals that lack Allien's personal stamp, and too few songs like “The Brain is Lost” and “Down,” both of which favourably compare to the last album's “Trashscapes” and “Alles Sehen.” Expecting any artist to follow-up a definitive work with something of equal caliber is asking a lot but Thrills would benefit from a greater helping of Allien's songwriting gifts.

June 2005