Review: ‘Principe Del Norte’ – Prins Thomas
I first became aware of Prins Thomas (or Thomas Moen Hermansen as he’s known to his friends) in the halcyon summer of 2007. At a time in which Gallic electro was a dominant force, Prins Thomas and his long-term associate Lindstrøm provided a BBC Essential Mix which projected an alternative view as to how electronic music should be. By showcasing a handful of their own productions alongside tracks by artists such as Runaway, Faze Action and Aeroplane, the two Norwegian artists helped my younger self to understand that electronic music could be energetic, danceable and engaging without being abrasive. As I’ve gotten older, my taste, of course, has matured.
‘Taps aff’ moments in tracks will always produce a special reaction but another side of me now often judges a track by the quality of its production, the space within its mix and the musical cohesiveness of its elements. Such is life, or maybe I’m just boring now. Favourites have come and gone but Prins Thomas is one of only a few artists which I have consistently been a fan of since electronic music dragged me into its world.
Prins Thomas describes his latest effort, ‘Principe Del Norte’, as an ‘ambient’ album. However, it isn’t ‘ambient’ like, for example, a lot of Brian Eno’s music is. Mr Hermansen’s latest is a dynamically varied affair packed with a plethora of different sounds, ideas, tempos and textures; confusingly enough, it is only really ‘ambient’ on account of the circumstances in which it was made.
Taking inspiration from ‘90s albums such as KLF’s ‘Chill Out’, Prins Thomas did make an ‘ambient’ album in the historical meaning of the word, i.e. without the use of drums or drum machines, and upon completion, it was intended that the album would be remixed by others. In the end, though, Prins Thomas decided to just remix the album himself. The result of this is ‘Principe Del Norte’.
The most striking thing about this 4xLP epic is the height of its ambition. With tracks more often than not clocking in at over 10 minutes, there is ample room for a multitude of ideas to come to the surface. Similar to the song structures of prog-rock, it is as if each track has been created to tell its own story. This is most evident in ‘D’. Starting off with a low-slung dark mugginess, the track eventually gives way to a beautiful Balearic line similar to Bicep’s ‘Celeste’. Accompanied by different synth lines coming in and out of the mix, an electric guitar solo is eventually introduced before a more traditional bass-driven coda finishes off the track. On paper, these disparate elements should not work together yet the talent of Prins Thomas has enabled him to somehow create a track which is both utterly cohesive and unpredictable.
The expansive, prog-like nature of the album shines a light on Prins Thomas’ influences as an artist. The influence of the 1970s, for instance, has always come through in both his music and Lindstrøm’s, culminating in the latter’s recent collaboration with Todd Rundgren. The easy-going rhythm of ‘F’, therefore, calls to mind Brian Bennett Band’s ‘Drum Odyssey’ of 1977, a track found on Prins Thomas’ sweeping ‘Paradise Goulash’ mix released at the end of last year. ‘E’, meanwhile, veers from a modern, swirling, synth-led work-out towards what sounds like Billy Preston jamming with Fleetwood Mac.
This ‘ambient’ album finishes in a way that others rarely do: with a techno track. Initially reminiscent of Petar Dundov’s work, the cinematic atmosphere of ‘H’ descends into something utterly brutal and thrilling; the raw growl of the bass forces its way into the mix, transforming the track into something more akin to the output of an artist like Boddika. I have seen Prins Thomas DJ in many venues over the years, with artists such as Dixon, Omar-S and Todd Terje, and I have seen him play a variety of different genres. In my mind, the fact that ‘H’ exists brilliantly shows how a life on the road can change an artist’s approach to their own music. After honing his craft on different dance-floors around the world, it is as if Prins Thomas has subsequently felt the need to show to the world just how viscerally strong electronic music can be, in a way that artists such as Four Tet and Nicolas Jaar have also done.
At first, ‘Principe Del Norte’ is an overwhelming album due to its length and the sheer multitude of ideas contained within. Its mastery, however, becomes apparent with repeated listens. A daring, bold and enthralling album, it is the work of an artist who has harnessed his experience and influences to create something very absorbing indeed. Prins Thomas has always done his own thing, confident enough to do so irrespective of any prevailing winds of change or trend. Long may this continue.
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