It’s Review Time.
Olsen Records, 2014
8.0 / 10.0
Todd Terje has been teasing us for about 120 months now. Ever since the release of the 2004 Soul Jazz imprint “Eurodans”, the Norway producer’s reputation has grown in one of the most peculiar manners in recent memory. He’s cultivated his image – whether intentionally or not – carefully and auspiciously, working under a geographic veil which has kept him the seemingly humble neighborhood oddball who danced through the streets of his home town in “Inspector Norse”. Yet, Terje’s string of singles, edits, re-edits, etc. have always been just that: singular flashes of brilliance, and perhaps fittingly, this aura of anticipation has amassed through relatively old-fashion technique. Just as Terje’s heroes baited the dance floors with only seconds of the next cued white label, Terje has only given us ephemeral clues as to what a whole nights worth of his own mix would sound like.
Watching the WHATEVEREST documentary, its safe to assume Terje (whose real name is Terje Olsen) isn’t too concerned with whats going on in the dance world around him. Listening to him explain the context surrounding 2012’s It’s the Arps EP, we get a brief yet revealing tour of his home studio, which looks like the weight room you had in your basement growing up, except lined with vintage synthesizers instead of cobwebbed bench-press machines. Describing his fascination with Youtube DIY dance videos, he appears as genuine and humble as music obsessives come: an everyman with the unique ability to manipulate roughly 60-years worth of music into vibrant collages of accessible and lucid sound.
If anything, It’s Album Time is proof Terje has no desire to be pigeonholed into any genre, as you’re likely to hear at least four on any given track. Yet that isn’t what’s so fresh about these songs; whether through traditional sampling or Ableton-ready sample packs, its relatively easy to make your kick sound as if it’s coming from Ron Hardy’s 1200. Terje knows this, and although his past may suggest otherwise (Ragysh is a near-perfect synthesis of old school and progressive house), he’s more than capable of pushing textbook sounds in curious, explorative directions. After all, we are talking about a guy who deftly constructed a whole EP from one synthesizer. Listen to those digitized helium-filled gasps on “Sevensk Saas”. Simultaneously blending melody and rhythm, the succinct track is one of the most forward thinking pieces of electronic music I’ve heard all year. By the time the spurted mess of gargled-synth trade space with the snares, you might realize there’s a piano buried underneath. And even if you don’t, it’s still a wonder Terje can merge ostensibly disparate elements so smoothly, while still sound like he’s modestly smiling to himself behind the keys.
Terje’s playful approach to broadening and redefining dance music’s conventions is best displayed when he places distinct elements tightly side by side. “Alfonso Muskedunder” (who is surely the cosmo-drinking cavalier who adorns the artwork’s baby grand) proves that, YES!, finally, jubilant chorus melodies followed by prog-synth solos sound great when bookended by whiplashed 1960’s drum breaks and faux-woodwinds lifted from Laetita Sadier’s Moog. Its a pretty impossible combination to imagine – let alone to hear in succession – but Terje makes it work by stressing the details, which here is the incredibly spaced percussion accents.
It’s worth mentioning that the aforementioned cuts are relatively short compared to the more obvious centerpieces like “Delorean Dynamite” and “Oh Joy”. Expansive and elaborate, these morphing behemoths are filled to the brim with synth runs of any and every size and shape. And while they all sound great and feature some rather surprising anomalies (the guitar noodling midway through “Dynamite” challenges anything Mr. Rogers has recorded recently), I can’t help but feel these tracks, just as with the “Swing Star” suite, best lend themselves to listening while under the influence of dance, not necessarily while sitting at a desk or on the bus. The repetitive nature of the arpeggiators and four-on-the-floor rhythms create a rather hypnotic trance, and engagement could very easily depend on listening context.
It’s Album Time comes riding a wave of well-earned hype, and the unfair question at hand is if Terje can showcase his talent successfully over the course of a whole album. Despite some lapses in pacing here and there (the album’s tongue-in-cheek intro is followed by some fairly stagnating cuts) he has altogether succeeded at creating a living, dynamic, and adventurous album of danceable tunes which not only act as songs for the body, but for the mind as well. Meticulous and innovative, it’s amazing just how much fun he appears to be having while creating a body of work which appears so carefully assembled. And for those who are scratching their heads regarding the inclusion of the previously released “Inspector Norse”? Shut up. That song is still perfect.