Albums / EPs, Reviews

Album Review: Todd Terje – It’s Album Time

It’s not hard to imagine Norwegian disco producer, Todd Terje, sitting in his studio, surrounded by…

It’s not hard to imagine Norwegian disco producer, Todd Terje, sitting in his studio, surrounded by an array of vintage synths and nobs, cracking his knuckles and saying to himself ten years after the release of his first single, ‘Okay, It’s Album Time!’ In fact, it is the innocuous title itself that proves to be one of the standout aspects of this album when, after listening to the release in full, you’ll find it loosely correlates with how the album ebbs and flows. To clarify: the title, It’s Album Time, is nothing more than a statement. But its ability to incite a sense of anticipation within the listener ties in with how the tracks weave languidly into each other, occasionally cresting but only showing their full force on reputed dance-floor sizzlers ‘Strandbar’ and ‘Inspector Norse’. Clearly, his understanding of how an album settles with listener is based on his understanding of expectancy and result, whereby longer climbs famously provide greater rewards. If anything, Terje’s seemingly comedic and self-effacing ways do little to conceal his brilliance in being able to create textural and sprightly arrangements that would make any early disco-producer’s heart swell. 

Terje’s ability to get hoards of people flaying themselves around dance floors for all these years – by only really producing disco-infiltrated lounge jams – is a success-story in itself. Yet, the real success lies in his ability to reach for innate nostalgia and revive it with a modern twist, elevating the seemingly mild and mixing it up through relatively production. Nevertheless, It’s Album Time’s final and rousing track, the famed ‘Inspector Norse’ from his previous It’s the Arps EP, does two things for this album, which, when combined, undermine his efforts ever-so slightly. For one, it celebrates his genius in being able to create irresistible and timeless works, but, at the same time, it also puts the rest of the album into perspective, and ultimately uncovers the inherent tautness found in so many of its other songs. When a style is stretched too far, the urge to skip tracks comes about far quicker than it would if there was a dynamic array of shape shifting. The same applies to catchy, sounds and variables; all of which he is capable of converging with skillful dexterity. 

Of course, this does not belie the fact that, even in the tracks that aren’t ‘Inspector Norse’ or ‘Strandbar’, there is an unexpected addictiveness and aptitude to their incessant grooves and pulses. Opening track, ‘Intro (It’s Album Time)’, introduces us to glistening arpeggiated synths, mild percussion and a funk-laden groove, all of which is cut by whispers of ‘It’s Album Time’, making for a somewhat cheesy beginning. Yet, paired with the album art (a mocking cartoon of Terje as a jazz pianist), the package works as a perfect primer for the appropriated movie soundtracks and retro synth jams that are to follow. 

‘Leisure Suit Preben’ makes for a spindly and romantic, classic sci-fi soundtrack number, with smooth piano chords cutting through the clipped synths. ‘Preben Goes to Acapulco’ has a sleazy finesse about its kitsch mid-tempo groove and ‘80s cheese, which eventually finds its own in a confident pop working alongside some pretty mind-blowing synth arpeggios. ‘Svensk Sâs’ has a sexy Latin-American va-va-voom dripping from every ounce of its production, providing an energetic pick-me-up, only to prepare for the following disco hit, ‘Strandbar’. Spy-thriller soundtrack dynamism seeps from the core of this track, with multiple piano hooks and bass loops that have been worked through his intelligent sequencing methods, ready to engross those who aren’t fans of his normal stylistic tendencies.  ‘Deloreon Dynamite’ tackles the same fast-paced drive that featured in ‘Strandbar’, filling it with a dense array of synth bursts and drum machines before calming it down and letting the cover of Robert Palmer’s 1980 hit, ‘Johnny and Mary’ settle things down a bit. The inclusion of this cover hints at Terje’s stretching his range a tad, allowing for an experiment with pace and vocalization, as well as providing a well-needed break from what has otherwise been a pretty craze-fueled ride.

‘Swing Star Pt. 1’and ‘Swing Star Pt. 2’ are two careering tracks off of the It’s the Arps EP that settle well on It’s Album Time with their darker undulating bass lines and dark synths. ‘Oh Joy’ has a distinctly Georgio Morodor style, capable of letting emotions run as high as the sounds of the spacey heights they seem to be recreating. ‘Alfonso Muskedunder’ is the weakest track off of the album, with its sounds reminiscent of a cluttered jazzy theme-tune to some ridiculous sitcom.  

Terje’s dexterity with a synthesizer is unprecedented. His obsession with modernizing the retro has made him a firm favourite with DJs around the world. And while the older songs maintain their innovation through his expert artistry, the new tracks are ingenious in their form and deft sense of precision, but lack purpose in the scheme of a creation that tries to straddle a balance between complexity and accessibility. This is not to say that an electronic album need be filled with so-called ‘bangers’, but his playfulness with thematic and classical references (often quite peculiar choices) becomes tiresome over time. The weaker tracks thus lose their charm faster than you’d think. The diversity in his productions is susceptible to clutter; but, on the flip side, it allows for people to close their eyes and get lost in the formidable array of sounds he slots together. Despite its shortfall moments, It’s Album Time serves as a home to several songs that will certainly give him ‘disco-legend’ status in the years to come. 

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