Review Summary: Give life back to music
Todd Terje’s much-anticipated debut LP It’s Album Time
is what Daft Punk’s comeback album should have been. Now, bear with me a moment; I’m not stupid, and I realize Terje’s disco and Daft Punk’s disco sound almost nothing alike. That being said, one of the finest qualities of It’s Album Time
is its attitude towards the music it purveys. In this writer’s humble opinion, what kept Random Access Memories
from being a great album was how self-important the whole thing felt. Daft Punk alternated between well-crafted pop songs (good) and eight-minute odes to Giorgio Moroder, indulgent to the point of being masturbatory (not so good). It wasn’t a bad
album, by any means, but given the French duo’s previous track record the album was nothing short of disappointing. The wonderfully funky drum breaks on “Crescendolls” and “Digital Love” were alluring; the soulless vocoder on the unfortunately straight-ahead “Give Life Back to Music” just wasn’t the same.
Which, I suppose, is where It’s Album Time
comes in: though it explores a wholly different part of the nu-disco spectrum, it especially differs from Random Access Memories
because it takes whatever self-seriousness Daft Punk displayed and throws all of it out the window. Every non-auditory facet of the album - cheeky title, whimsical cover, ridiculous track titles - is appropriate because it exactly mirrors the music within. Terje’s smirkingly confident production shines brightly, as is immediately apparent from the way the loping, playfully ominous “Leisure Suit Preben” converts itself into a soundtrack to some old-school street-smart spy flick before fading into the funky disco of “Preben Goes to Acapulco.” It’s a fantastic argument for the propagation of the dreaded disco movement - whereas at one point the style would have been avoided as the creative quagmire it was, It’s Album Time
provides counterpoint after counterpoint to those who would dismiss the genre as some sort of poisonous movement.
Of course, disco, however inventive Terje makes it out to be, cannot make a satisfying album by itself. So, realizing just that, It’s Album Time
immediately switches to “Svensk Sas,” a new-school samba track sporting Terje’s trademark friskiness.The song’s colorful piano and vocalized bass build up just right among claps and clicking hand drums, and the unorthodox piece ends up a standout. Terje pulls of this kind of mischievous genre-hopping with aplomb, and the more unconventional pieces present here are almost without exception incredible. Take the absurdly-titled album highlight “Alfonso Muskedunder” and its improbable jazz-rock-house-whatever-else-Terje-wants fusion (all in 7/4 time, no less!). It’s the kind of high-energy piece which is one of the most straight-up celebratory tracks of Terje’s career, and it’s all the better for it. It’s especially noteworthy because of its bookends: the easy-listening pop muzak of “Johnny and Mary” (which, improbably, works shockingly well within the framework of the album) and the euphoric prog-disco of the “Swing Star” suite. It’s clear Terje knows exactly how to pace an album: its highs and lows are perfectly placed, building up and coming down perfectly every time.
Closing track “Inspector Norse” is ample evidence of this idea. Coming directly off the epic-finale fervor of “Oh Joy,” it serves as the perfect epilogue to the LP. Already a staple track in Terje’s discography, it nevertheless provides a perfect comedown after the elation of the first eleven tracks. Its bare-bones funk and flange-addled chords serve as a straight-ahead conclusion to an album which goes decidedly off the beaten path. It’s a fitting end, yet another curveball (or anti-curveball) to conclude a masterful debut full-length. Terje’s cocky, frisky songwriting skills shine, and It’s Album Time
easily clears the high bar the producer set for himself through his remixes and EPs.