Lindstrøm's Smalhans is Irony-free Disco
I am a mood listener. By that I mean that my daily listening habits will tend to reflect my emotional state at any given time. Though there’s no science behind this observation, I do believe I’ve noticed some patterns. Take for example my tendency toward guitars, rock, folk and more organic bands during the fall and winter seasons and an almost exclusive focus on various brands of electronic and techno music during the summer months. I’d like to tell you there is some grand plan or reason for this but I think it’s a lot more simple and primal than that. l believe it’s because many of the guitar bands that get frequent play in my collection have a very warm sound. On the flip-side I associate techno and electronic music with a cool breeze, windows down, and tall cold drinks on a patio.
As with any rule, however, there’s got to be exceptions and one jumps to mind almost immediately—“Where You Go I Go Too”. The 29 minute trance track by Norwegian producer Hans-Peter Lindstrøm was first presented to me one January morning in 2009. I played it to death, very privately. I feel about Lindstrøm the way I might feel about huge fuzzy slippers—were I to admit to owning any—which I won’t. Much like those hypothetical slippers, it’s the sort of thing that you might not be inclined to have on when company comes over. But you’ll indulge later.
Lindstrøm’s sound in a North American context evokes images of ‘70s exploitation films, or low-budget modern sci-fi. It’s not coincidence that it’s commonly referred to as “space disco” - a label which I’ll go on record as saying is a little short-sighted. Though Wikipedia has an entry on it, I’m not willing to acknowledge it as a real genre (it still needs citations). At best, it was a fad. I’d be willing to bet that if you walked up to anyone within Hans-Peter’s local scene and asked what kind of music he made they’d probably say “dance music”, “disco” or perhaps just “electronic”. There’s nothing that appears to me to be overtly “spacey” about his music—at least not in a deliberate sense. I don’t believe he’s setting out to create that sound. Just because we North Americans have been desensitized to the ever-increasing force of bass, doesn’t mean that some parts of the world aren’t content to roll along with what was working just fine. That doesn’t make them all throw-backs.
The disco element comes across almost immediately on Smalhans, the new six track studio LP. The first few bars of “Rà-àkõ-st” are built completely by the book—flat bass and snare march along propelled by some light electro hi-hat. For a moment we can all agree that this is timeless booty-shaking music. From sea to sea, we embrace in an international electronic music love fest but then the synths come in and we are just as easily divided. This is the “love it or hate it” moment but it’s also the signature sound of Hans-Peter Lindstrøm. In this moment we North Americans hear irony. If there’s a guy next to you who’s from Toronto or New York they will laugh through proclamations of “This is awesome!” but it’ll be meant ironically, as in I’m-hip-to-this-ancient-sound. They’ll make jokes about lining their minivans with shag carpets or making love in “The Grotto” while they’re busting out the old chestnut John Travolta dance moves. But set me apart from them—please—because having heard “Where You Go I Go Too” I have been well prepared for what Hans-Peter has in store. Every track is a progression into more of those pleasing disco sounds. His tracks never sit still long enough to be made fun of. Before you know it the irony has given way to an authentic enjoyment and the mock Travolta moves are suddenly showing signs of real enthusiasm.
Ęg-gęd-ōsis absolutely busts loose with a straight-forward nu-disco sound that makes you forget the need for any depth. Vōs-sākō-rv follows equally as energetically with a simple acid bassline and enough building synth layers to keep any electronic music appreciator in their headphones for the duration of the brief record.
Fāār-i-kāāl and Vā-flę-r both go to that more emotional space—the one I described earlier as “warm”. I recognize now that it’s because the synths are climbing through every verse and then giving way to easy drops which are refreshingly free of typical North American techno tropes like the snare build-up through the break or the sweeping rush of air. The tension here never gets too high so there’s no need to break it down with a sledgehammer.
This record has elements of disco, sincere emotion, lush synth atmospheres, and nods along from beginning to end without stopping for a breath. North Americans, if you can get by the instruments of choice and shed your pop-cultural and historical references long enough to forgive the undeniably cheesy synth lines you may just find yourself appreciating this record for what I believe it was intended to be—upbeat, easy-listening dance music. Everyone else, just put on your favourite slippers, queue this up and indulge yourself.