When I first heard Ellen Allien's 2003 release Berlinette, it knocked me flat on my arse. At that point, I'd missed her earlier import-only releases, but upon catching up with her work realized that although she had made some strong early statements, Berlinette was truly her masterwork up until that point. With crisp production, pounding beats and nice touches of both guitar and vocals, it was definitely a breakout release and one that took her from lesser-known to huge name status worldwide.
A somewhat long two years later, Allien is back with Thrills, and those looking for a direct follow-up to her previous album may find themselves caught off-guard by it. One of the most noticible differences between the two releases is that this newest album seems much more dancefloor oriented. Much of the sharp rhythm programming and quick dynamic changes that marked her previous effort is replaced with more straightforward 4/4 beats and relentless dirty basslines that unfortunately repeat themselves to the point of annoyance.
The first two tracks on the release are a perfect example of the lost focus that seems to inhabit the album. "Come" opens the release with a dark and gritty bassline while ripples of guitar glint off the surface as kick drum thumps away. The combination of sounds is certainly engaging enough, but at six and a half minutes the track simply doesn't change up enough to keep it engaging. "The Brain Is Lost" follows, and the setup is similar as flickering electronics bounce off a sharp beat before a deep low-end roll and vocals enter the mix. Like the first track, it comes together nicely, but then just locks in and doesn't really do a whole lot else for the remainder.
The lack of dynamics and the slow and soft progression of many tracks on the release are the biggest problems with the release, and unfortunately they drag it down quite a bit. Allien has quite an ear for combining unique and exciting sounds, as she has proven for some time now, but once the initial excitement of many tracks on Thrills is over, they often leave you hanging. Around the middle of the album, "Ghost Train" takes a completely different direction with lighter beat programming and gurgling melodies, but it feels like a big refreshment before "Cloudy City" again slams away with old-school techno sounds for almost six and a half minutes.
Allien is a DJ as well as a producer and owner of a record label, and this newest release really feels like something that she created to appease DJs more than casual listeners. With beats that pound almost relentlessly and much less in terms of creative dynamics and song development, Thrills is tailor-made for burning up the dancefloor (or perhaps to help fuel an all-night coding or writing session). As a fan of Berlinette, I admit to finding her taking some interesting and exciting steps with Thrills, but I also feel disappointed in it.