Prins Thomas: Principe del Norte

Forgoing more rhythm-based music, Prins Thomas explores sound and texture for the sake of itself rather than that of the dance floor.

Prins Thomas

Principe del Norte

Label: Smalltown Supersound
US Release Date: 2016-03-04
UK Release Date: 2016-02-19

What is the purpose of music in the 21st century? When attention spans are measured by the millisecond and human interaction is largely expressed in 140 characters or less or through hash-tags and bastardized English, does it function as it once did, requiring the listener’s full and undivided attention? Or do we no longer possess the ability to invest the requisite time, effort and energy to process music the way previous generations had? Has music devolved into little more than the soundtrack to our overly commercialized capitalist society or mere white noise spilling out of earbuds as we make our way through the day?

Furthermore, the advent of the Internet has not only changed the face of the music industry from a business and consumer standpoint, but has also helped democratize the ability to produce and distribute music. Because of this, there has accumulated a massive surfeit of music and media vying for our already limited attention. Where previous generations made a concerted effort to seek out and acquire new music, physically pursuing albums that are now a keystroke away, today we simply point and click, search and acquire. And once acquired, the listening experience is largely an individual act, a far cry from the communal consumption of music during the rise of rock and roll, the evolution of pop music into a contemporary art form and the subsequent stylistic splintering that seemed to have come to a head sometime near the end of the last century.

With development of truly new and different sounds and styles having largely stagnated, artists now look to past for bits and pieces they can look to reassemble into some semblance of the familiar in hopes of striking a nostalgic chord with listeners desperately searching for the visceral impact music had in their youth. Much of this has been made manifest in the fetishizing of vinyl by a broad social demographic. Here we have a physical format once thought long dead having risen once more in the early years of the 21st century. Is it nostalgia or the idea of having a connection with others, owning or seeking out the same physical product to have and hold? In this, we’ve made our way into the ultimate musical nostalgia trip: contemporary artists replicating previously explored music sounds and styles through an archaic medium. It’s the natural evolution of an obsession with the past.

Taking this idea to its logical conclusion, electronic musician Prins Thomas has created a series of stylistically varying albums that serve as an overview of the preceding decades compressed into the here and now. Operating largely within an electronic or dance-oriented format in the early years of his career, Thomas has since expanded his sonic palette to include elements of jazz, indie rock, industrial and minimalist techno. For Principe del Norte, he eschews stylistic dabbling in favor of a wholly immersive approach. Focusing on one single genre, Principe del Norte serves less as form of individualized tracks than a meditative exploration of arpeggiated synths and arrhythmic textures that require little in the way of direct attention from the listener.

Over nine side-long explorations -- each assigned a letter rather than a name, further negating the notion of this being an album of songs or distinct tracks -- Prins Thomas creates a series of contemporary explorations of ambient and minimalist composition that simultaneously owe more to various ‘70s krautrock, prog and early new age musicians than any 21st century artist. And yet Prins Thomas is a decidedly 21st century artist in his approach here. He is not attempting any sort of revisionist take on these massive double and triple albums from which he has sourced his inspiration. Rather it plays as an attempt to replicate within a modern musical framework music that is nearly five decades old. Principe Del Norte plays more like a middle-period Tangerine Dream album than the more club-oriented material for which his largely known, both solo and with his frequent collaborations with Lindstom.

But by simplifying his approach and sharpening his focus onto a relatively old form, he has created an album well suited to that of modern listeners. Rather than requiring one’s full attention throughout, Principe del Norte functions as an ambient soundscape that can be explored either directly and in close-up or from a 10,000-foot overview that shapes the basic idea of the sonic landscape. It’s music that can be skimmed, tuned in and out of and otherwise relegated to background noise without the integrity being compromised. Whether traveling through crowded streets or working away in an office cubicle, tracks “A” through “H” (there are actually two “A” referred to simply as “A1” and “A2”) provide a constant, comforting backdrop against which the world can unfold as it sees fit.

This approach serves Prins Thomas well as he (hopefully temporarily) leaves behind the more rhythm-centric approach of his previous albums in favor of an immersive ambient listening experience. Principe del Norte is an album and collection of tracks to be heard but not necessarily listened to. Kept on a loop, the more than 90-minute album begins to adopt a meditative quality, its repetitions proving hypnotic in their ability to simultaneously allow the listener to wander and apply direct focus. With attention spans being what they are, an album of this length is a bold move. But Principe del Norte ultimately proves to be one that pays off in its ability to ease its way in and out of your conscious. Be it headphones or turntable, put this album on and go about your day. It’ll be here for you when you need it.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.