Todd Terje is a joker. The passage of time has afforded us a view of him that, much like Norwegian contemporary Lindstrøm (and maybe Prins Thomas, though he remains more guarded), reveals a goofball sense of humor manifesting itself in every facet of his persona. You can hear the stifled chuckles on his gear blog as much as on his Facebook page (“REMASTER OF THE UNIVERSE”). Even his name is a gag. The disco edits Terje has made his name doing seem like the perfect medium for guys like him and Lindstrøm in part because the line between kitschy throwaway and “Eurodans” is so fine — and that’s assuming you acknowledge there’s a line at all. Even if you don’t, their public attitude is that this is just music, and music is to be enjoyed and entertained by. Life’s a beach. Lighten up.
Tons of remixers and DJs hold this view, though. What makes Terje notable is how his relaxed demeanor contrasts so sharply with an obvious artistic ability. It’s one thing to say music is no big deal and then make tracks that sound like it; Terje is the opposite, carefully considering his own sound in past remixes of, say, The Bee Gees or Michael Mayer, in addition to originals like “Glittertind” and last year’s heralded “Ragysh.”
His new EP, It’s the Arps, is another way of presenting this duality. It’s some of his best work, but it’s done with the gimmick of relying solely on the ARP 2600 analog synthesizer, a device originally released in 1971 and probably best known for creating the voice of R2D2 in the Star Wars movies. Terje embraces the instrument and, in so doing, makes the sort of cosmic disco largely absent following Lindstrøm’s own balearic high-water mark, Where You Go I Go Too.
It’s ambitious, then, but not in an obvious way. Listening to “Inspector Norse” (R.I.P. John Thaw) rush in on a wave of noise only to clear out as a single melody repeats on the low end, it’s not hard to imagine this being made on one piece of machinery. Yet as the song builds, ascending with a second line that cuts loose around three and a half minutes, just past halfway, it’s suddenly a whole other entity. It sounds richer, busier, full of painstaking attention to what’s going on just beyond the obvious ebullience of the melody. “Myggsommer” reminds me of Shakespeare’s Puck in its flitting about — an interlude, maybe, but lighthearted and mischievous all the same.
It’s also a smart set-up for the two parts of “Swing Star,” where Terje once again takes his time before hitting stride. The first part starts off in a flurry of minor key arpeggiations that revolve around one another, chasing their own tail for the better part of four minutes. The simple bass line is retained for the slower pace of night driver “Swing Star Pt. 2.” Like “Inspector Norse,” it takes about three-and-a-half minutes to come to life, but once it does, you forget you’re listening to a guy utilizing so much of just one instrument. This is the product of a whole studio’s worth of synthesizers.
Thinking it over, Where You Go I Go Too may be Norway’s most ambitious disco homage, but It’s the Arps is its most telling. Its ambition is masked by humor not just on the cover but in the bloodlines of the music. We’ve had a few years to absorb the saturation of this sound from ’07 and ’08, and like Terje himself, time has helped lend perspective to the once-massive field of also-rans. It turns out he was smart to lay low for these past few years — with the crowd thinned out, It’s the Arps stands out that much more for its excellence. Todd Terje may be a joker, but he is certainly no joke.