Capsule Reviews: Todd Terje, Space Project & S. Carey

Reviews of new albums from Todd Terje, Bon Iver's S. Carey, and Lefse Records' Space Project.

Todd Terje, It's Album Time
It would have been easy for It’s Album Time to be only half as good as it turned out to be, because resting laurels on an innovative idea is always easier than mining the contents to discover the depth. Luckily, Norwegian producer/DJ/facial hair enthusiast Todd Terje cares too much. He always has. It’s but one of the reasons he developed such a seminally progressive reputation in the mid-00’s (his frequent collaborations with fellow Norwegian and DJ icon Lindstrøm probably didn’t hurt). But It’s Album Time succeeds in a way that most dance albums don’t: It tells a story. Terje’s, to be exact.

And the story succeeds as a compelling reminder of Terje’s geographical appreciation. His disco roots remain buried in the soil, but what blossoms is something different—something more all encompassing. He taps into Brazilian Bossa nova on, “Svensk Sås.” He flirts with airy Mediterranean jazz on, “Leisure Suit Preben.” And, with the help of Bryan Ferry, he rewires the circuitry on Robert Palmer’s “Johnny and Mary,” to create a gut-wrenching illustration of his emotional depth.

All the while, club-ready deep disco tracks like, “Strandbar,” “Delorean Dynamite,” and early release, “Inspector Norse,” demonstrate Terje’s fluent understanding of how musical elements work together, despite how easy it might have been to botch the equation. Terje knows better. He took his time. And It’s Album Time is a lock-tight demonstration of how crucial time is in the cultivation process. As a result, Todd Terje curated one of the most enjoyable albums that will cross our desk this year. B+ [Austin Reed]

The Space Project
As J. Spaceman (Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce) suggested with his only-in-it-for-the-money remarks regarding Lefse Record’s Space Project, there’s an asterisk next to the idea of this compilation’s music having been built from interplanetary sound recordings. According to the label, the samples are actually “electromagnetic radiation fluctuations” graphed by the Voyager probe and converted into soundscapes.

If such fine print drains The Space Project of some novelty, it’s nothing an inspired use of the Voyager recordings couldn’t salvage. Unfortunately, this is largely a collection of sketches that, while probably well intentioned, likely wouldn’t make the cut on closet-cleaning odds and ends LPs from the majority of the participants.

The relative good: Trevor Powers stays in his wheelhouse with the waltz-like, baroque movements of Youth Lagoon’s “Worms,” but he upturns a couple new stones here, finding some deeply strange electronic scuttles beneath. Additionally, the warm ripple of “Amphitrites Lost” makes a nice supplement to the Holydrug Couple’s canon, though it’s not noticeably more celestial than anything else they’ve released. Nor is Blues Control’s “Blues Danube” any more extraterrestrial than their typically alien fare.

Ironically, Space Project peaks with Pierce’s own “Always Together With You (The Bridge Song)”. Beginning as a spare, oscillating synth drone colored by lonesome doo-wop guitar licks and teenager-in-love couplets from Pierce (“If you want a universe/I will be a universe for you”), it incrementally evolves into a Brian Wilson-influenced piece of classic Spiritualized majesty. Its presence here is conspicuous because, whatever Pierce may say to the contrary, it’s the album’s only genuine labor of love, designed to coat every millimeter of your headphones with tenderness.

While Space Project ultimately feels more like a noble failure than an attempted Record Store Day cash-in, its general lack of wonderment adds little to the imaginative legacy of Carl Sagan and the Voyager Golden Record. C [Michael Wojtas]

S. Carey, Range of Light
Range of Light, S. Carey’s second and best solo full-length of classically-informed folk, borrows it’s title from proto-hippie writer John Muir’s pet name for the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and it plays like a wide-eyed aural atlas.

Despite the pleasurable presence of Carey’s soothing tenor and sincere, unadorned mantras (“All I want is honesty,” “We lay all day”), Range of Light feels like a series of impressions, not songs. He employs everything from woodwinds and trombone to Hammond organ and kalimba, while the tenderly nuanced production gives breathing room to spacious, evocative arrangements; the programmed electronic blips peaking through the ruminative “Creaking” could be the final interjections of a smartphone belonging to someone heading off the grid for good.

Carey, whose day job is drumming for Bon Iver, is wise enough to know he’s a born background player, even when there’s not a more magnetic personality like Justin Vernon’s to support. Here, ambiance itself is the centerpiece, while Carey always seems to be tinkering behind the scenes, coaxing a yawn from a pedal steel or tickling a vibraphone, forever in search of the proper balance between momentum and stasis, yearning and peace.

Standout “Crown the Pines” is the best entry point for the unfamiliar, largely because it features vocals from Vernon. With its Steve Reich-like string pulses, complexly woven harmonies and a foundation of acoustic and synthesized percussion, it’s an immediate moment on a gradual album.

Ultimately, Range of Light may be too subdued to inspire anyone to drop out of society altogether the way Muir’s vivid prose might, or even for a weekend as a Fleet Foxes record can. But if allowed a spot in your rotation, its placidity could nudge you into taking the scenic routes a little more often. And that alone is worthy of some (appropriately muted) applause. B- [Michael Wojtas]