Todd Terje: It’s Album Time
Terje Olsen, AKA Todd Terje, has kept us in suspense for ten years. Ten years after the nu-disco master began building his reputation by filtering every disreputable genre from disco and 80s album-oriented rock to smoky lounge through his Balearic sensibility, he’s finally ready to unveil the big show. It’s Album Time brings together one hour of Terje’s kaleidoscopic dance music into one sleek package, and it’s mostly worth the extended wait.
Artist Bendik Kaltenborn’s cover art portrays Terje as a bejeweled lounge singer leaning thoughtfully on a piano. Technicolor cocktails sit next to him, and his body is covered in an electric blue leisure suit. The portrait, like the music, conveys good-humored decadence. Laid back and so confidently uncool it becomes cool, It’s Album Time feels indulgent for the listener rather than the musician. From the starry opening title track to the lively sounds of applause that bring the album to a close, it brings heart and creative spark to a genre that so often feels like a creative dead end these days. “Preben Goes to Acapulco’s” title hints at a tropical vacation, but the song itself feels more like a short resort stay at a space station, all funky bassline, ascending synth chatter, and jazzy percussion. Add in a flourish of strings or two, and it becomes the opposite of pedestrian. Following swiftly behind is a cover of Swedish singer Monica Törnell’s Svensk Sås” entirely composed of vocal scat samples. It undergoes several manic transformations in under three minutes, its slowly mushrooming low-end turning what could have been an annoying lark into a weird masterpiece of Latin club jazz.
Terje is at his most playful working with pure four-on-the-floor house music, though. “Strandbar” keeps the the cosmic party atmosphere going with its joyous piano chords and more of Terje’s ever-delicious bass work. “Delorean Dynamite” is genius, its dense low end swept up in dramatic waves of synth before finishing with a peaceful coda. In the album’s second half, “Oh Joy” and “Inspector Norse” bring more of this dance floor power to bear, giving the album an overall brisk pace. There is one exception to this, however.
Placed in the centre of the album, Terje and Bryan Ferry’s cover of Robert Palmer’s foggy love song “Johnny and Mary” is the eye of the hurricane. For six minutes, the beats per minute plunge into the 60s and the album takes a sharp turn for the contemplative. Ferry imbues the song with passion and longing, emphasizing the circular nature of the song’s titular protagonists’ problems in the chorus. High vocal samples accentuate the mood, and at one point a crystalline piano belts out the song’s melody, producing a refined melodrama. By itself, “Johnny and Mary” is It’s Album Time’s peak, gorgeous, lush, and perfect for slow-dancing. As the centerpiece of the record, however, it breaks all of its momentum. It would have worked even better as the album’s closer.
Terje has admitted that It’s Album Time’s production was a rushed affair and that he was dismayed that he had to pad it with previously-released tracks. Given the peerless quality of his best singles, there is an unavoidable sense of disappointment when the full-length doesn’t live up to that standard. Nonetheless, the older tracks like “Inspector Norse” haven’t tarnished at all with age and the album remains completely solid despite its creator’s misgivings. Spending an hour with Todd Terje remains one of the rare pleasures of music listening, and It’s Album Time is one of the best full-length debuts of recent memory.