Todd Terje knows how to deliver a specific pin-prick of dance floor euphoria, but he’s really just going for laughs.
“House and techno DJs — they’re some of the most serious musicians around,” the 32-year-old Norwegian producer says. “The music I really like has a humorous edge to it, and I feel like humor comes when artists have some success. They have the energy to do something funny.”
So the lulz come straight away on “It’s Album Time,” Terje’s first full-length after a decade of carefully crafting ecstatic neo-disco tracks. He kicks the album off with some candy-coated synthesizer snowflakes and a whispery chant: “It’s album time. It’s album time. It’s album time.”
Is he poking fun at ye olde pre-digital music format? Or pumping himself up for the 60-minute task at hand?
“It’s just that I’m horrible at titles, and I love stupid wordplay,” Terje says over the phone from his home in Oslo. “It’s what came into my mind.”
The album closes with “Inspector Norse,” a bouncing bliss-ball that became Terje’s signature in 2012. But for the rest of the album, Terje drags house music through a fun house, proving his fluency in the new age of Vangelis, the silliness of synth pioneer Mort Garson, the cheese jazz of Henry Mancini, the florid disco of Cerrone and the post-modern swirliness of Stereolab.
And somewhere in that motley mess of tempo and texture, there are jokes — something Terje says he learned from Frank Zappa.
“I like when he has something humorous to say with music rather than words,” Terje says. “His arrangements are totally brilliant.”
Born Terje Olson — it’s pronounced TER-yay — the producer grew up in Mjondalen, Norway, roughly 30 miles west of Oslo. As a child, his mother sat him behind a piano and he soon cultivated a “very nerdy type of humor” by hanging with jazz geeks whose idea of fun was getting together to play Charlie Parker tunes at ridiculous speeds.
In his 20s, he started editing and remixing house and disco tunes of various stripes, eventually producing original tracks of his own. Like Norwegian producers Bjorn Torske, Lindstrom and Prins Thomas before him, his music was incredibly clean, mildly quirky and highly danceable. “My DJing is silly and effective,” Terje told the electronic music site Resident Advisor back in 2007.
Years later, Terje says he’s still tweaking his approach to songwriting. “Normally, I start with drums, and I jam around with chords and bass lines, but lately I’ve been trying to let the melody dictate the rhythm, which can be really difficult,” he says. “A lot of musicians have done it incredibly well. Like Chick Corea’s ‘Armando’s Rhumba,’ a Latin jazz song from the late ’70s. It’s basically a long hook that’s incredibly melodic and rhythmic at the same time.”
On “It’s Album Time,” you can hear that most distinctly on “Svensk Sas,” “Alfonso Muskedunder” and “Swing Star, Pt. 1,” songs that Terje sped up so fast, they’d be impossible to play on any sensible dance floor. But he also knows how to slow things down to stunning effect. His cover of Robert Palmer’s “Johnny and Mary,” sung by the great Bryan Ferry, has enough plastic pathos to land a spot in the next David Lynch film.
“He’s a really laid back kind of guy, which is unusual when you’re an artist of his caliber,” Terje says of Ferry. “He seemed to listen to me in the same way he would listen to any other musician he works with.” (Terje mostly speaks in a self-deprecating deadpan, but you can hear that he’s actually proud of this.)
Another notable collaborator on “It’s Album Time” is Terje’s buddy Bendik Kaltenborn, an illustrator he met when the two worked together as record store clerks more than a decade ago. Because the two share a love of bright colors, dumb jokes and ’90s video arcade games, Kaltenborn is the guy who’s given the covers of Terje’s recordings their distinctive, cartoonish look.
What will Kaltenborn be designing for Terje next? Will the producer hunker down for another album or will he craft more beats for our insatiable dance floors?
“I think both,” Terje says. “It was very deliberate to make this album without thinking about intro beats for DJs. But I like rules every now and then. It feels quite nice to get back to the rules.”