The Norwegian trio of Todd Terje, Prins Thomas and Hans-Peter Lindstrom spearheaded the Nu-Disco, Space Disco or Nu-Balearic (the music went by lots of names) movement. Remaster of the Universe is Terje’s summation of his work in that genre. It’s a two disc collection that includes a 17-track mix by Terje on the first disc and an unmixed compilation of 9 of his remixes on the second disc.
The press release for Remaster of the Universe indicated that the collection is intended as Terje’s farewell to the world of remixing and that now he is going to “heal the world with proper self-composed music”. Wow. “Heal the world”? “Remaster of the universe”? Sounds like Terje has an immensely inflated opinion of himself that’s out of all proportion with his actual abilities. He’s good, but he’s not anywhere near as good as he apparently thinks he is.
Terje’s mix on CD 1 is composed almost entirely of his own remixes. It’s a decent mix that’s certainly worth a listen or four but it isn’t in the same league as the DJs who do this kind of thing for a living. The meat of Remaster of the Universe is the compilation of Terje’s remixes on the second disc. On the basis of what he gives us here, Terje doesn’t have the musical depth of Lindstrom nor the timbral breadth of Prins Thomas but within his narrower range of ability he produces first-rate remixes. Almost every track on the disc is a winner and more than a few are recognized as classics of the genre.
Listeners who like space disco/nu Balearic/nu disco or the music of Lindstrom or Prins Thomas will almost certainly enjoy Remaster of the Universe. If you’re unfamilair with these names or genre labels but like music that rides a compelling groove into laid-back bliss, check Remaster of the Universe out.
Terje’s remix of Rogue Cat’s “Magic Journey”
Prins Thomas, along with fellow Norwegians Lindstrom and Todd Terje, are at the forefront of the dance music genre referred to as space disco, nu disco or nu Balearic. Thus far Thomas has been most well know for his collaboration with Lindstrom on two genre-defining albums, his many often strikingly good remixes, and his record label Full Pupp. The self-titled Prins Thomas is, to the best of my knowledge, his first full-length CD that is made up entirely of his own material.
I tuned in to space disco mainly through Prins Thomas when I had a run of especially enjoying different tracks on various mix collections and discovering that they were all Prins Thomas remixes. Accordingly, I hunted far and wide to find his lightly mixed collection, Cosmo Galactic Prism, a label compilation from Full Pupp, the unfortunately named Greatest Tits Vol. 1, and a set he did for the Live at Robert Johnson series along with his more easily found collaborations with Lindstrom. With all of that as background, I was still surprised with Prins Thomas.
With relatively minor exceptions on two tracks, Thomas wrote, performed, “fixed and mixed” everything on Prins Thomas. The breadth of the music in terms of the variety of instruments, timbres, and styles on the album is remarkable. Thomas is not wedded to a limited number of synthesizers, multi-sampled instruments or drum programs. He uses electronic and analog sounds with equal and great facility. He is also a master at layering sounds together. Any given segment of any track on Prins Thomas may be composed of any number of layered instrumental tracks and, without fail, they all work seamlessly together. Prins Thomas is a masterfully crafted CD. The skill with which Thomas combines such a wide variety of sounds results in an album where each track gives you no idea what the next track is going to sound like. There is no identifiable “Prins Thomas sound” here unless immaculate production is counted as a “sound”.
The strengths of the CD are also it’s weakness. The same breadth of instrumentation and variety of sounds and styles that describes the album is also a viable characterization of each of the tracks on the album. From where it starts, you never know where any of the tracks on Prins Thomas are going to end up. Thomas avoids anything like standard song structure and presents tracks that move from segment to segment on melodic or timbral paths that have little or nothing to do with repeating segments that might correspond to something like a chorus or a verse. Many tracks are based on a fundamental rhythm that holds through most of the track but beyond that, anything goes. The movements from one segment to the next are smoothly accomplished but the overall effect is of a directionless music that just goes here and there. Each track, taken alone, is expertly constructed and both interesting and enjoyable to listen to. Listening to the entire CD can leave one feeling unfulfilled because it doesn’t seem to add up to anything.
I’ve listened to Prins Thomas many times now and every time I put it on I find the same thing happens. If I focus my attention on the music I hear something new I didn’t pick up on before, I am presented with a wealth of ideas about how I could improve my own music, and I end up having had a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience. If my mind wanders while the music is playing I’m left with a feeling of emptiness because the breadth of instrumentation and lack of structure both within and across songs leaves you with nothing to latch on to if you weren’t paying attention.
Attiatte from Prins Thomas
Don’t let the title fool you. Listeners who have some familiarity with electronic dance music may associate “Balearic” with the mind-numbingly tedious dregs of the worst variants of chillout music that filled “Ibizia” mix CDs in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Those collections stank; this one doesn’t. In a way it’s a shame Deakin chose a title with unwelcome ties to past types of music promotion that may turn some listeners off because one of the main points he wants to make with this mix is that there’s something new and interesting going on.
Fred Deakin is one half of the duo that made up Lemon Jelly, the inventive electronic music group that announced they were taking a break in 2008. Nu Balearica is a two-disc mix of electronic music that is sometimes referred to as nu disco, space disco or cosmic disco. In the notes that accompany the set Deakin relates how he had a hard time coming up with an adequate description of the music in Nu Balearica until he ran into Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet) who responded to Deakin’s description of his mix project with “it’s the return of melody” which Deakin thinks pretty much nailed it.
The tracks on Nu Balearica are certainly more melodic and have a markedly lower bpm than what you’d find in the hardcore banger style of dance music but this is music that is fundamentally about groove. Perhaps the most well known producers of this type of music are the Norwegians Prins Thomas, Lindstrom and Todd Terje, all of whom are represented on Nu Balearica. If you are unfamiliar with these guys, Nu Balearica is an excellent way to get a taste of all of them. For my money Prins Thomas’ mix of Hatchback’s “White Diamond” alone is worth the price of the collection. But Nu Balearica has much more than music from the three Norwegians. It is a very good collection for discovering a broad range of talented producers and remixers of a groovalicious style of electronic dance music.
A word must be said about the packaging of the collection. Deakin is well known for the inventive and often beautiful packaging he wraps around his releases. The Lemon Jelly CDs are gorgeous. However when artful design interferes with basic function, somebody needs to say “Wait a minute. This ain’t working.” Nu Balearicais very artfully packaged with two booklets, cardboard sleeves for each disc and a cardboard case to hold it all together. Colorful graphic designs abound. However the case doesn’t give you any indication of what’s inside so the record company printed up a thin paper band that slides around the case and that tells you what the package contains. That’s a picture of the band on the right. The problem is that the only concise and easy to use track list for the collection is printed on the band which is easily lost or torn. Deakin provides track lists with notes in the booklets but who wants to screw around with pages of Deakin’s ramblings to find out the name of the track that’s currently playing? Not me, but if you lose or tear the little paper band you’re shit out of luck. So, what we have is a great mix in a lame but pretty package.