Chameleon, prankster: electronic artist defies category

Jordan Beck

5/5 Stars

Artist: Todd Terje

Album: It’s Album Time

Release Date: April 8, 2014

Genre: ElectronicPop/Rock

Record Label: Soul Jazz Records

Duration: 59:10

Who is Todd Terje? His debut record “It’s Album Time” begs the question, for a few reasons.

On the surface, it’s simply the most popular stage name of Terje Olsen, up-and-coming Norwegian electronic producer.

But Terje is also a chameleon, willing to shift genres multiple times within the same song. He’s a magpie, taking wildly disparate elements of the musical past and  creating a cohesive whole.

Above all, he’s a prankster, waiting a full decade to release one of the most hotly-anticipated electronic albums in ages, then spending a good half of it on music that barely sounds “electronic” at all.

(Print tease continues here:)

Here’s the thing, though: It all works. All of it. Even the stuff that really, really shouldn’t. Lighter-than-air ‘60s jazz on a disco album? Makes perfect sense, once you’ve gotten used to it.

Multi-part, experimental song suites? Just as fun as everything else here. Combine that sense of experimentation with a tackle box’s worth of hooks and near-infinite replay value, and you’ve got the kind of album that summers are made of.

If you’ve heard one of Terje’s songs before, there’s a good chance it’s breakthrough single, “Inspector Norse.” And for good reason, too, as “Norse” is the perfect representative of what one could have called “the Todd Terje sound” before this album came out. (Long story short: whimsical/mechanical beats, chipper synths, and an overwhelming sense of retro-futuristic nostalgia. On paper, it should sound like every other band of synthpop wannabes from 2008 on; in reality, it’s like nothing else.)

“Inspector Norse” shows up on “It’s Album Time,” and it’s not the only beat-heavy track here. In fact, tracks like “Delorean Dynamite” and “Oh Joy” are just as good at starting parties as their predecessor. But the sound it embodies isn’t Terje’s sole focus this time.

You see, the album’s other genre of choice is…easy-listening music. Yes, on what’s otherwise a dance record. It seems almost too insane even for Terje at first, but keep listening and this less beat-driven material becomes crucial to the album’s precision-tuned sense of pacing. For example, Latin jazz riff “Svenk Sas” and piano house monster “Strandbar” are fantastic tracks on their own. Let the former bleed into the latter, however, and the contrast improves both.

Things get stranger still. It’s tempting to paint “It’s Album Time” as a case of “epic disco anthems vs. weird lounge music,” but its best track doesn’t fall into either of those categories. That would be a cover of Robert Palmer’s “Johnny and Mary,” as sung by Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry. While the original was energetic to the point of hyperactivity, Terje turns it into a slow dance, aiming straight for the heart on an album otherwise devoid of tear-jerkers. Like every other crazy idea on this album, he pulls it off flawlessly.

And that’s really what it boils down to, isn’t it? In its own way, “It’s Album Time” might be 2014’s boldest album thus far, a whipped-cream pie in the face of convention and genre. It threatens to go off the rails at any moment, but somehow manages to keep even its most disparate ideas feeling like part of a unified whole. Most impressively of all, it does all of this without sacrificing its pop ideals even for a moment.

Don’t miss this one, folks.