[9 April 2014]
PopMatters Interviews Editor
Todd Terje is one of “those guys”—a guy whose work you probably recognize even if you can’t exactly place the name. There is nothing wrong with that, but any artist with a modicum of talent and ego would obviously want to fix that sooner than later.
Norwegian-born Terje Olsen’s whole aesthetic has been reappropriating ‘70s and ‘80s dance music into a modern context, completely unafraid to line himself up with such oft-bemoaned tropes such as classic disco in order to make his name. Yet, over years, that’s exactly what Terje has been doing, perfecting his art through a nearly endless stream of remixes and compilation work, slowly getting his name out there and having his work stand for itself. It doesn’t matter if it’s his relatively minimalist take on Simon Baker’s “Plastik” or his excellent work on the Horse Meat Disco III compilation or his trippy recontextualizing of Felix Laband’s unique brand of pop-jazz or even his must-have junglefication of Hot Chip’s “How Do You Do”, he always found a way to make a song sound both modern and retro at the same time, which is a very tricky act to do, but if pulled off well, which Terje has done time and time again, it can be a sight to behold.
Thus, after the modest success of his 2012 single “Inspector Norse”, Terje slowly began working on honing his pop instincts, co-producing a few songs for Franz Ferdinand while also having a hand in writing Robbie Williams’ big global #1 smash “Candy”. Now, after years of work, Terje is finally putting out his own solo disc; or, to quote it’s title, It’s Album Time!
Anyone familiar with Terje’s work knows before going into it that this is going to be a retro-based affair, and true to its work, Terje has made one hell of a soundtrack to your next yacht party. Although this element has been circling his work for years, It’s Album Time is basically the sound of Terje updating lounge music for a modern-day dance floor. Although the shift tones of “Leisure Suit Preben” never really coalesce into a solid melody, the looping synths and sharp harpsichord sounds on “Preben Goes to Acapulco” definitely conjure up ‘80s cheese at its finest, riding a nice mid-tempo groove while simultaneously begging to be played underneath footage of a millionaire and his hot model cruising a sun-speckled ocean in a speedboat.
As Album tears on it, touches on several tropes that are near and dear to a dance fetishists heart such as Terje: there’s the fast samba overtones of “Svensk Sas”, the “bah bah bah” conga of “Alfonso Muskedunder”, and the glittery house homage “Swing Star, Pt. I”. While some may think that such a unique grab-bag of genres is just Terje’s way of showing off, the mix of different melodic styles really helps give the album a distinct identity, gliding into different circles while still all coming from the same fundamental aesthetic, the drum patterns changing just enough to give Album enough push to not make you want to switch albums even as you want to switch blazers (because of all the sweaty dancing you’re doing, obviously).
However, aside from a nice Bryan Ferry collaboration dropped right in the middle of the disc (“Johnny and Mary”), some of the other “straight” dance tracks that Terje attempts tend to sound very sonically similar to each other, and it’s here that the album is at its weakest. For a man with such a distinct style, it’s rather alarming to hear him repeat a lot of the same poses as he goes on, and on a shuffle, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish “Strandbar” from “Swing Star, Pt. II” to the mishmash that is “Oh Joy”, which, at over seven minutes, is more exhausting than it is exhilarating. Although putting “Inspector Norse” at the end is a nice touch, that song’s strong melodic backing and focused chorus make it stand out over some of the more meandering Album tracks.
Still, classic dance music enthusiasts will find a lot to like about Terje’s debut, which diversifies itself enough to make it an easy recommend over, say, Kavinsky, who just beats the same ideas into the ground over and over again over the course of his entire output. Terje doesn’t lack personality and certainly has a great knowledge of dance history to draw from for his own work, but for a disc that clocks in at just under an hour, only about half of what is featured here can constitute as genuine takeaways. It’s a solid debut, and it’s great to see such a young voice make such great headways, but with a few drawn-out passages, one can only hope that Terje will learn to refine and focus his craft as he goes on. It’s Album Time is a great casual listen, but it’s obvious from its highlights that Terje is capable of even greater highs. Let’s just hope we get to hear them on his next release, and not scattered about on dozens of remixes for once.