Todd Terje - It's Album Time
Release Date: April 7, 2014
Todd Terje’s debut LP has been a long time coming. He’s been producing dance music since long before I had ever heard the phrase “space disco,” and if that’s the first time you’re reading that term, I beg you not to leave quite yet. For most people that two word phrase will be enough to turn them off of It’s Album Time, a regretful designation that has thankfully been supplanted in recent memory by the rise of “nu-disco,” accompanied and championed in part by Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. Of course, the blockbuster success of “Get Lucky” endeared the idea of disco to Americans for the first time in decades - but to many dance fans, this was a source of chagrin. They pointed to Terje as a member of the vanguard that built the foundation for RAM’s success, someone who the robots backhanded with their elitist tinged speeches of the “magic” of live instrumentation in music. Of course, there was not a wholly Terje album yet to point to as the antithesis of that philosophy, and fans waited with bated breath both on the basis of his works own merits and some vague, mildly ridiculous notion that Terje was the “genuine” article to throw Daft Punk into disrepute.
From the sound of the introductory track’s exhalatory chants of “It’s album time!”, Terje has been breathlessly awaiting this moment right alongside his devotees. Its a tad perplexing then that this consummate master of the smouldering disco jam follows that anticipation with the warped, plodding rhythm of “Leisure Suit Preben,” and despite a brief surge, it never really elevates it beyond that. “Leisure” transitions seamlessly into “Preben Goes to Acapulco,” a more satisfying exploration of Terje’s more sedate side, accompanied by upwardly spiralling keys that would burst into something monstrous if they ascended any higher in the low-pressure airspace surrounding them.
Before you know it, you’re four tracks and a quarter of the run into the record, bobbing your head along contentedly to faux-latin that precedes “Strandbar,” the first exhilarating moment on the record. The preceding time makes more sense now - the dizzying grooves required yet more anxious waiting, because the remainder of the record collects Terje’s best singles and frankly, its difficult to lead into one of them, let alone the group assembled here. Relegating tracks to something of that sort is tricky, particularly when they aren’t particularly intriguing independently. But among the tracks that follow is “Inspector Norse,” reappearing as the closing statement of the LP. “Norse” follows what were once its b-sides in a subversion of expectations r generated by its long gestation among fans. It retains every bit of its original buoyancy, pinging along the dancefloor jubilantly, now joined by a feverish need to wring out every last bit of that feeling as you can, because its conclusion is now also that of the album.
Normally, repackaging a number of singles on an album is disappointment, the spectre of becoming overplaying hanging over the tracks more than the newcomers. It’s Album Time, however, makes a case that these songs are as resilient and potentially “eternal” as any of those that Daft Punk deliberately engineered; Terje seems as though he merely happened upon them on a casual jaunt through the lounge, drink in hand. More than likely is that the new songs will join the singles in this regard in due time. Among them is immediate highlight “Delorean Dynamite,” which despite the impressive, busy production and attractive guitar licks buried within seems more interested in making its muffled cowbells the indelible focal point of the track and succeeds. Following that epic number is no easy task, so Terje chooses to throw his established oeuvre out the window and buck expectations entirely. The lone song with vocals commences, a cover of Robert Palmer’s 1980 song “Johnny and Mary.” The track aches wistfully, a stunning departure for Terje even among the earlier moderately paced tracks. It is perhaps the first song in his catalog that can be classified as yearning, and its inclusion here recasts Terje’s own story. “Johnny’s always running around, trying to find certainty” croons Bryan Ferry, and the sense that Terje’s meticulously crafted highlights reflect a search for a stable outlet is tangible. Such emotional resonance is a welcome addition to Todd Terje’s repertoire, and if there’s a complaint to be made about it, it’s merely that it didn’t appear with such strength earlier.
A debut album coming from a veteran like Terje is a difficult proposition, with expectations laying heavy over the final product. His propensity for pushing boundaries is carried over onto an album that devotes more than a third of its runtime to previously released songs. Terje took the remainder of that time and expended it on bold, successful new iterations of his aesthetic. It's Album Time might not be the perfect refutation of the Daft Punk model that some of his fans would have wanted, and the reality is that the RAM-framework isn’t really one that needs deconstruction or an aesthetic-philosophical rebuttal. Both actually suffer from a similar bloat of diversions from their strengths. Regardless, confrontation isn’t Terje’s tunes MO. If he continues to confidently draw from previously unexplored reaches of his sound the way he does here, maybe it will be one day.