Norwegians aren’t supposed to dance. They’re not even supposed to want to dance. For all the presumptions made about the body- and soul-priming effects of repression, none are usually borne out on the dance floor, where the apparent fusion of all Scandinavian ball-and-socket joints below the belt becomes grotesquely evident. If you dug a hole into the earth directly under Funkytown, you’d emerge on the other side right smack in the center of Oslo. Blame global warming for thawing out the Land of the Midnight Sun, or speculate on the astrological conditions bringing about the Year of the Comets—either would make as plausible a case as any for how pale, willowy Buskerudian nü-disco DJ Todd Terje has materialized as one of the most prominent producer/remixers of the dance scene.
There’s at least one other theory to consider, one which capitalizes on the prevailing perceptions of Scandinavian abnegation. Permit a quick illustration: In a recent episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, heretofore mostly unremarkable party-girl contestant Adore Delano responded to a ’90s hip-hop challenge by playing it surprisingly straight, and her verse and look served realness among a field of clowns clowning. The unexpected moment of legitimacy can be a powerful tool. Terje, right down to the artwork that graces his releases, positions himself as a jester DJ, one who turns the presumptuousness of his nom de plume “tribute” back in on himself. Terje, if pronounced in proper Norwegian, is revealed as a homonymic riff on genre-bending genius Todd Terry. But can you just imagine Todd Terry permitting a construction-paper caricature of himself in periwinkle polyester, sitting at a lounge piano like a handlebar-moustache Joe Jackson, three tiki drinks at the ready?
On the surface, many of Terje’s latest tracks leading up to—and, as it turns out, included on—It’s Album Time, a compulsory title that embodies his sense of humor, seem mixed from the same fruit-filled Boston shaker. “Inspector Norse,” a clean, chiming crossover smash that was a little bit Clouseau and a little bit more Cloud One, was a knowingly frivolous lark, an impenetrably constructed cuckoo clock. Clearly not in on the joke, one critic accused Terje of making music fit only to be played at strandbars (the Norsk equivalent of piña colada-slinging spring break beach stands), and Terje turned it right back around and followed up with “Strandbar,” an even more aggressively sunshine-y piano-house juggernaut. In both cases, Terje uses the superficiality of his medium to smuggle in some serious chops. Riding along with “Strandbar” in particular is like watching time-lapse footage of a butterfly’s pupal stage, with the wobbly bass and chugging percussion of the first few minutes revving up into hard-driving oscillations and pounding keyboards before a baptismal key change leading into a perilous breakdown. By the track’s finish, any facetiousness in Terje’s pitch is long forgotten.
It’s Album Time is structured similarly, slowly building an argument that there’s genuine talent behind the sheen of novelty, only to have Terje zigzag in the other direction, dodging the argument he would claim he wasn’t even interested in making in the first place. The two-pronged adventure of “Leisure Suit Preben” and its immediate sequel, “Preben Goes to Acapulco,” comes off preciously ungainly while also a pitch-perfect recreation of vintage, harpsichord-drizzled Rinder & Lewis. And “Delorean Dynamite” is as relentless and thrilling an artifact of the current ’80s Lambo-ride revivalism as any. Terje reportedly had to throw together the album faster than he wanted, which is why a third of the tracks are recycled from earlier releases. Yes, the seams certainly show here and there (his soporific crypto-Balearic remake of Robert Palmer’s “Johnny and Mary” with Bryan Ferry is unfortunately a bridge too far), but Terje clearly sells himself short. Just like a Norwegian.