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Review: Prins Thomas’ Space Disco Phones Home at Last on ‘Principe Del Norte’

SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: February 19, 2016
Label: Smalltown Supersound

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. The latest producer to take on that legacy is one who has an extensive one of his own: Norway’s Prins Thomas, who cited the U.K. trio as one of the inspirations for his new ambient LP, Principe Del Norte.

A frequent collaborator of his fellow countrymen Todd Terje and Hans-Peter Lindstrøm, Thomas has been moonwalking away from the “cosmic disco” designation they’ve all been historically tagged with since 2014’s Prins Thomas III, wherein he promised “no space disco, but plenty of space.” That is certainly the case on Principe’s nine tracks, which sprawl from a leisurely eight minutes in length to an endurance-testing 14; Thomas recommends listeners hear the album in a “center position in front of your speakers, a comfortable couch or chair,” or perhaps like this. But unless you have also absorbed some psilocybin (which would make an act as banal as sitting down a revelation)Principe is better experienced while in motion. Preferably on a train or a bike, something with gears you can physically feel clicking into place in time with the meditative regularity of Thomas’ propulsive arpeggiations.

Otherwise, yes, sometimes you’ll find yourself fast-forwarding to the next track by the time four or five minutes have elapsed. That’s only really true for the album’s first half, especially dual openers “A1″/”A2,” which could be trimmed to one track and none would be the wiser. Escalating slowly but surely into more motorik territory, Principe hits its stride, unsurprisingly, when the beats become more of a focal point. “C” (each track is named for its corresponding side of the 4xLP) nestles into a head-nodding groove with guitar-like feedback that shimmers in and out of focus and percussive slaps, as if Thomas looped himself palming his thighs or animal-skinned drums in the studio. Eventually Principe builds to techno-minded closers “G” b/w “H,” the former bobbling along on an ostinato bass line while the latter throbs with peak-time heat, doing away with any of Thomas’ pretensions about abandoning “conventional drums and drum machines” on this album.

Principe doesn’t carve any revolutionary niches on or off the dance floor so much as it patiently, oh so patiently, chips away at Thomas’ own reputation as a space-disco purveyor. You could even say it brings him back to Earth.