Ellen Allien

Thrills

(Bpitch Control; 2005)

By Amir Nezar | 20 September 2007

The slick club panthers purr to one another at the bar, purchasing drinks for the mysterious techno-muse. A line of them, for the Berlinette, offering drinks she won’t take, politely refuses, spinning the sinister swirl of a dark German night’s sweet techno salvation. The shaded magic of the affair flutters in the dark mystery of their heroine --- buried deep in the gaps of light like a wonderfully sinister almost-lover --- like the music itself.

Sounds like a hell of an experience, and the legendary accounts make for good fancies, but the live pulse doesn’t fit onto a compact disc. And so all we’ve got is a set of dark house and house-variations, all very articulate, all very clean stop-start build-breakdown dynamics and menacing atmospherics. But what thrills are dynamics without dynamism, atmosphere without ambition? Ellen seems to have found the auto-pilot switch.

It’s not that Thrills is so much worse than the love-it-it’s-new Berlinette --- Ellen’s previous effort was clever but certainly suffered from its share of repetitive loops --- it just shares the same loop-it-again ethic of its predecessor, and with less of the variation and elasticity, the mess to make it interesting. And I miss the melody.

The high hits quick and the comedown is a sight less than perfect. “Come” retains the menace, mastery, and explosive dynamic energy of Berlinette’s best, building steadily but tweaking its composition subtly, adding a wavering synthetic guitar tone to deepen its background, building, crashing and then swerving back into control. This is when Allien’s most arresting - when she sets a bit of fire to the textbook with a dash of unpredictability and a spark of smart maneuvering.

And while “The Brain is Lost” plays with the same kind of synthetic blurps and bursts that inform good freakno, it’s the first indicator that melody and hungry compositional drive take a second seat on Thrills to technical techno. Unfortunate, that is, because those two things are what made Berlinette a record worth coming back to. “Your Body is My Body” takes the baton and runs, and with the same harsh synthetics and same loop-repetition and meticulous calculation, the songs begin to run, too. The song does a textbook-perfect job of complicating its beat element by element, then doing the same with its slightly more melodic elements, but it’s rote, almost beneath the goddess’s talent. Here’s an element-drop, there it comes back again, nice and semi-predictable, where is the goddess again? Is she in these speakers? “Ghost Train” won’t take you anywhere new or different, and hey man, I’m not in the club, and my chest is sagging.

Thrills is technical to a “T” and plenty competent, but its lack of stylistic push or spread marks its void of hunger or ambition, a space that the mechanized heart of Berlinette nearly pumped blood into. I’d like to love Thrills, but with its unerring, unsurprising, lustless consistency, I’m stuck wondering whether the album’s title is ironic.