[4 June 2009]
Music fans in the Digital Age are a restless bunch. They want their new music the day before the musicians step into the studio. The persistent, irascible competition to be current, which could surely be defined as a principle qualification for hipsterdom, cripples musicians and exhausts record labels looking for solutions. As a likely response to this, Eskimo recordings sent out promotional discs for superstar Norwegian producers Lindstrom & Prins Thomas’s long-awaited follow-up to its eponymous debut (creatively titled II) with the album’s eight songs dispersed somewhat arbitrarily throughout the 99 tracks allowed on an optical compact disc.
Part of this reviewer wishes this gimmick was extended for the worldwide release rather than just for advance copies. The 99 tracks can be said to serve a couple of purposes secondary to preventing leakage and piracy. First, the formatting encourages the album’s potential audience to listen to the disc all the way through from start to finish, which is clearly the way II’s authors intended. After all, who would want to scan through 42 tracks just to get to song three? In addition, by breaking up songs into 20-second to one-minute-and–a-half fragments, the exploratory and progressive nature of these works becomes all too apparent.
This likely will be the most-divisive aspect of Lindstrom & Prins Thomas’s latest. II is a fluid corpus, migratory maximalism with the attention span of a kid in a candy store. For the most part, the sounds are likewise sweet. Gluco-cosmic sci-fi synth cooks the mix and melts it in your hands, but don’t call the Technicolor fantasia a disco affair. The multi-tiered syncopations are akin to noodling, and the lifts and drives feel less compositional than, say, jammy. The two men from Norway cut loose for about 73 minutes on II, which can be off-putting for those seeking a dance record or even for those who craved the more traditional structures found on the self-titled Lindstrom & Prins Thomas. The two should not be punished for exploring new energies, though even if it means that some songs lack a fulfilling climax to the anticipation generated by the constant propulsion.
As perhaps was the case before, the pivotal point of departure for Lindstrom & Prins Thomas is the 1970s. The hairy, psychedelic squiggly mess in its liner artwork speaks to a long-hairedness to be found between the notes. Its references seem to arise by way of each other, Caravan by way of Slave, Can exchanging studio tweaks with 10cc, Moroder interpolated by Gentle Giant or Pink Floyd toking it up with Lalo Schiffrin. The organic interstellar bounce of opener “Cisco” from its opening bass hits (which recall the Fraggle Rock theme, of all things) to its real guitar strums and bongo hits confirms this as a work of an outro-space groove dynasty. The glockenspiel ‘n’ atmosphere of “Ska Vi Prøve NǺ?” is as much woodland as spaceland, but also feels like Yellow Magic Orchestra coming of age in the time of Juan Atkins.
Judging by its solo outputs alone, Prins Thomas seems to be the artist likely more responsible for the Balearic sounds stewed up in the multi-channel pot. Yet, these are well constrained and veer far from the border between grace and disgrace that those sounds often tiptoe. “Rett PǺ”, to take one example, is synth-funk stakeout music Jan Hammer might have composed had he both dug on Air and not abandoned his Mahavishnu Orchestra past. “For Ett Slikk Og Ingenting” is similarly an exotica goldmine, a late-night tale unto itself minus the kitsch. The magnificently dreamy piano slides with a slipperiness that’s like fingernails across a harp. The beats are rock beats and conservative Latin percussion, not throbbing four-on-the-floors. Its pursuit is the mystics of consciousness, an intimate journey that’s neither immediate nor particularly explicit.
As such, II requires a bit of patience. Patience of the sort that requires someone who can wait until an album’s release date to hear what the artists have to say. Some songs have bits that add up greater than the sum of the whole. Others get exhausted too easily and never quite ignite. When the magic does happen though, it’s so acute and ecstatic you don’t want to be anywhere else but inside the music.