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Todd Terje makes dance music fun again

| Sunday, April 13, 2014

todd_terje_WEBMARIA MASSA | The Observer
Music criticism is often a huge debate. I say that X album is good; you say Y album is a million times better in every way. I say X album is brilliant because it has property A; you say X album is brilliant because it has property B. I say that X album didn’t age well; you say that X album is even more relevant today than when it was first released. To back up our respective arguments, we appeal to a number of factors: lyrics, production value, quality musical arrangement, innovation in form, political power, the list goes on. But there’s one factor that’s almost always missed. Perhaps it’s the reason critics consistently slam pop music and dubstep and trap. It’s the fun-factor: how much a record can be enjoyed as a piece of energetic, exciting entertainment.

So much of modern dance music is weighted down by anti-fun factors. It’s often overly formulaic, holding no surprises or left turns for the listener to stumble into. More experimental pieces take themselves too seriously, trying to create epic narratives or scenarios which leave dancers trying to look cool while jumping up and down with little to no purpose.  These two factors are products of artistic fear: producers and record labels are often scared to play with the listener in fear of looking silly; only overt parody acts like LMFAO and The Lonely Island seem willing to include amusing sounds and instruments in their music.

That’s not to say that the idea of fun in dance music is completely extinct. After all, there’s Duck Sauce’s “Barbara Streisand,” which throws a sample of a man pronouncing the name of the song onto a ridiculously catchy beat. There’s “Thrift Shop,” which combined witty punchlines with an infectious saxophone groove. But no artist in recent memory has crafted an entire album, which aims to be amusing, danceable and artistic. Dance music, which is supposed to be fun, has lost its sense of humor.

That’s where Todd Terje steps in. His new record, “It’s Album Time,” is an exuberant journey in fun and wit from start to finish. The very title pokes fun at Todd Terje’s trajectory as a musician; the man’s reputation grew on incredibly strong EPs and singles but he’s expressed that he wants a record to show his mother. The intro of the record latches on to that idea, featuring a man whisper the album title over a groovy beat. From there the record takes off into a journey of pure joy.

Setting the stage for the rest of the record, the first true track on the record (“Leisure Suit Preben”) follows a wonky baseline through psychedelic, swirling synthesizers that are consciously exaggerated. The bass is bouncy to the extreme, while odd percussion noises waltz through the background. While the instruments follow in the line of cheesy disco retro, the song is exquisitely formed — it builds up into a driving stroll, drops off a rhythmic cliff, regains its footing and rolls into the next track on the record.

The bouncy bass and wonky synthesizers echo throughout the record, jumping from groovy (“Alfonso Muskedunder”) to salsa-inspired (“Svensk Sås”) to gorgeously sad (“Johnny and Mary”). Todd Terje’s love of the vibrantly fun works well in every context he puts them in; perhaps because so few modern producers are shooting for the playful elasticity of old synthesizers, this results in an incredibly fresh-sounding record.

However, Terje’s best work appears in the form of dance tracks that shoot for the stars. The undeniable energy of tracks like “Delorean Dynamite,” the “Swing Star” pair and closer “Inspector Norse” works wonders when paired with Terje’s fun-comes-first production style. These are songs that are meant to be danced to, but they’re also meant to be funny — instead of climaxes where the audience is cued to start jumping up and down in intense fashion, Terje’s music presents moments of absolutely unrivaled enjoyment factor. And isn’t that what music’s all about?

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