Electroclash belongs to the girls. It belongs to M.I.A. and Annie. It belongs to Mu and Miss Kittin. It belongs to Ladytron. And yes, it even belongs to Peaches. For some reason or another, the ladies are showing up the men in this category, and there doesn’t seem to be any slowdown in sight. The girls just seem to have a natural edge in this category, strutting their dance and techno-pop skills all up and down their 909s. Even if it’s mere schtick, it has more charisma and more allure than the mechanical beats that the boys are banging out. There are Fischerspooners and Junior Boys, and they’re all fine and good. But let’s face it, the girls are where it’s at. Particularly the European girls. And if you want to pinpoint a specific place in Europe, it’s Germany. And if you want another name, here it is: Ellen Allien.
Ellen Allien wowed listeners in 2003 with her breakthrough Berlinette. And history just might repeat itself when the world hears her latest, Thrills. Allien’s brand of electro isn’t the same as many of the names mentioned above. In fact, it’s more hypnotic, more techno-based. It’s less kitschy, darker and more mysterious. It doesn’t shake you up, it slithers all around you, coaxing you to move, but doing its damnedest not to startle you. Ellen Allien makes an incredibly fluid and, yet, distant brand of techno-pop. And though she may not be as much of a diva as, say, Björk, her music is larger than life itself, partially because it’s programmed, yet feels like it’s a living, breathing organism.
Thrills is a murky and eerie meeting place between old school techno and dance pop. On a track like instrumental opener “Come,” Allien plays her beats dirty and repetitive, settling into a groove that’s altogether unsettling. Allien teeters between vocal tracks and instrumentals, though her vocals feel almost like narration rather than a melodic device. They’re detached and otherworldly, hovering above her songs like an extra-terrestrial visitor. It vibrates and blurs in and out of focus on the spacious, yet hard-edged “The Brain is Lost.” And it echoes repeatedly on the oddly organic “Your Body is My Body,” which features some truly out there drum sounds.
One thing that Thrills has, in spades, is atmosphere. Not the spacious, sparse, early Aphex Twin kind of atmosphere, but rather a strong evocation of mood. While its easy to imagine these songs going over well in clubs, they also make fitting soundtracks for visiting other planets, fighting robots, staring into the sun or watching a fragile glass fall to the floor and shatter in slow motion. Or whatever. It’s not like listening to it in your living room, car or workplace cheapens it in any way. But don’t act surprised when you picture one of these scenarios while succumbing to the Blade Runner grooves of “Washing Machine is Speaking” or the breathy chants of “Down.”
Like many of her peers, Allien combines the past with the future, merging in the present, though I’m not totally convinced that her music wasn’t actually transported from another time and place. I mean, if she can make music this compelling, who’s to say she couldn’t have tinkered a time machine as well? Past, future or present, Ellen Allien is one of the most interesting people to leave her mark on electronic music. Let’s hear it for the girl.
Kraftwerk – Man-Machine
Q Burns Abstract Message – Feng Shui
Ulrich Schnauss – A Strangely Isolated Place
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.