Release Date: Feb 19, 2016
Record label: Smalltown Supersound
Genre(s): Electronic, Ambient, House, Downtempo, Pop/Rock, Club/Dance, Alternative Dance, Neo-Disco, Ambient House
If Prins Thomas hasn't moved far from the "cosmic disco" sound he helmed in the mid-'00s, he's at least forged his own variations on spacey electronic music. His albums have increasingly drifted away from the dance floor, negotiating the space between psychedelic rock and kosmische. From 2010's self-titled album and on through 2014's III, the Oslo native has devoted himself to crafting lengthy, zoned-out compositions.No surprise, then, that for his latest album, Thomas Moen Hermansen set out to create something mostly ambient.
Prins Thomas decided to go back in time for this new release, to the era of classic ambient music in the vein of the Orb and KLF. Casting aside drums and drum machines, he took to the studio and went to work on what would become four sides of vinyl ecstasy. Clocking in at over 100 minutes, Principe Del Norte is the rarest of records: It doesn’t wear out its welcome and rarely, if ever, repeats itself in the time we spend with it.
A crisp new album from contemporary disco don Prins Thomas is always a cause for celebration, and his latest is in part inspired by sadly departed Swedish producer Joel Brindefalk and what he calls "the 'braindance' of the 90's": think The KLF's seminal 'Chill Out' and The Orb's lauded 'Peel Sessions' EP. Like his pioneering UK heroes, this hour-long LP works best lost in the moment with your ears nestled between a pair of good speakers and your head in the clouds, with the opening 'A1' (no proper song titles, folks) a slowly building eight minute cloud-busting soundscape that Alex Paterson would be proud of, and 'A2' (you get the picture) a more ambient sonic doodle that wouldn't sound out of place at the start of 'Chill Out': just add sheep. In the middle, 'B' is a 12 minutes of lush, melodic Floydian goodness, while the hypnotic, pulsating grooves of 'D' sounds like they've been beamed down from Mars and is probably the best (vinyl) side here.
Best known for his swirling space-disco tracks, produced both as a solo artist and with frequent collaborator Lindstrøm, Prins Thomas explored more of his ambient, Krautrock, and downtempo influences with his third solo album, issued in 2014. Following the 2015 release of an ambitious three-CD mix titled Paradise Goulash, which incorporated everything from avant jazz and industrial to minimal techno and indie rock, Thomas went further out of orbit with his next proper full-length, the 96-minute opus Principe del Norte. The album's extended, side-long tracks are a direct homage to the heyday of gatefold vinyl and prog rock, particularly of the hypnotic, synthesizer-driven variety.
What is the purpose of music in the 21st century? When attention spans are measured by the millisecond and human interaction is largely expressed in 140 characters or less or through hash-tags and bastardized English, does it function as it once did, requiring the listener’s full and undivided attention? Or do we no longer possess the ability to invest the requisite time, effort and energy to process music the way previous generations had? Has music devolved into little more than the soundtrack to our overly commercialized capitalist society or mere white noise spilling out of earbuds as we make our way through the day? Furthermore, the advent of the Internet has not only changed the face of the music industry from a business and consumer standpoint, but has also helped democratize the ability to produce and distribute music. Because of this, there has accumulated a massive surfeit of music and media vying for our already limited attention. Where previous generations made a concerted effort to seek out and acquire new music, physically pursuing albums that are now a keystroke away, today we simply point and click, search and acquire.
Just over 20 years ago, IDM iconoclasts the Black Dog released their chimeric 1995 album Spanners, which combined far-flung ideas from the dance universe in ways that had never been tried before. Adversarial stutter-stop rhythms, wailing ouds, bass squelches, and New Age-y melodies (to name just a few) all jostled for space within the album’s 19 tracks — especially on “Psil-Cosyin,” which is very likely an appropriate reference to magic mushrooms. It’s remarkable that the album still sounds as novel now as it did then even as its antecedents can be heard all over contemporary electronic artists’ output, including Grimes’ genre-mashing and Oneohtrix Point Never’s aux-cord geek-outs.
For an album with a royal pedigree right there in its title, Prins Thomas' Principe del Norte is a record with nothing to prove. The shortest of its nine untitled tracks is nearly eight minutes long, and three run to 13 minutes or more. You don't get the sense the track lengths stem from any sort of desire to grandstand; it just looks like Thomas didn't much feel like editing himself.
Like some psychic twin-town project, Scandinavian producers are forever drawn to Ibiza. EDM stars fill the beaches, but others – such as Lindstrom, Tiedye, Studio and Todd Terje – have been drawn to the yogic, hippyish side of the island, where astral awakenings to deep Phil Collins cuts are never far away. Prins Thomas has tapped into this state for three self-titled LPs, and this fourth continues the journey outwards across an epic eight sides of vinyl.
Just months after dropping an excellent triple-LP DJ mix, Prins Thomas is back with a sprawling artist album spread across no less than eight sides of wax. Principe Del Norte is not as ambitious as it seems, though; most of its elements are manipulated and then recycled repeatedly throughout the album, and Thomas describes it as a set of remixes of previously unreleased material. The result is a dizzying listen, and the non-descriptive track names (alphabetic letters, all) don't offer any bearings.