Bjørn Torske - Byen

by Jon Burke Rating:8 Release Date:2018-07-06
Bjørn Torske - Byen
Bjørn Torske - Byen

Despite minimalist cover art, and a deceptively simple moniker, Norwegian disco/house maven, Bjørn Torske's, latest LP, Byen, is neither minimal nor simplistic. Over eight tracks, each taking all the time it needs to develop, listeners are enveloped in Torske's trance-like beats and dazzled by his ability to incorporate the sounds of other genres into his music resulting in some of the most distinct, intelligent dance music of the year. 

As if to clarify Byen isn't going for an easy A in disco-pop, "First Movement", the album's aptly named intro track, immediately has more in common with Remain In Light-era Talking Heads and, of course, the master of revolutionary trace-inducing jazz, Fela Kuti. In a similar vein, track two, "Clean Air" hums into existence on its ambient opening which eventually gives way to a solid groove. Here Torske joins his electronic music fans with the dance audience by peppering "Clean Air" with airy keyboards which uplift his snappy beat into the stratosphere. Think Vangelis-meets-Kraftwerk-meets-Chic and you'll be close to the magic Torske is working here.

"Fanfatas", which starts-up like a car badly in need of a tune-up, soon picks-up speed and unfolds sonically from a rather muted, repetitive, bit of electro bleakness into an ever-expanding glowing hum. I was reminded of John Carpenter's 1980s soundtrack work--particularly on the Escape From New York Soundtrack. Somehow, throughout, Torske keeps hips moving and butts shaking while also evoking Snake Plisken's post-apocalyptic rampage. 

For fans of LCD Soundsystem's longer dance tunes, "Chord Control" will probably be a please. Though with that said, it never quite gets up to the speed it hints at nor the euphoria of a James Murphy dance track. On the other hand, "Gata" is the big juicy butt of the album. A solid slice of sonic poundcake replete with a shuffling disco hi-hat-heavy beat and an implied urgency to dance that seems nearly irresistible. 

As a counterbalance to "Chord Control's" stupid fun, "Night Call" is eleven minutes of evidence that Torske can make you shake your ass while making you think at the same time. A simultaneous return to both Fela and Chic. "Night Call" boasts a big swinging beat, on-repeat overlaid with the rigid guitars that defined Fela's sound. The whole thing essentially repeating ad nausea except for brilliant little flourishes and sonic interventions. Twinkling keys, a bizarre hooting vocal that recedes way to the back and some really great rhythm guitar which both drives the groove and struts over top of it, simultaneously. If "Chord Control" would move out of the way, "Night Call" would be Byen's centerpiece.

"Natta," the album's closer, strays far away from the easy appeal of the rest of Byen. Taking a cue from Steve Reich, Torske deploys disjointed piano sounds to conflict with an already uncomfortable beat. Though it resolves itself semi-pleasantly at the end of the track, the upsetting nature of "Natta" is not only an odd choice for such an otherwise smooth LP but, also, serves as a showcase for Torske's range. It's a reminder that he could just as easily be playing in the alley with Autechre, Richard D. James and that no good Lopatin kid... 

I cannot claim to be the most knowledgeable critic of this genre but, with that in mind, I was very impressed with Byen. Not only does the album serve as a lovely introduction to Norwegian dance music but it also uncovers the impressive range of an artist whose mark on dance music is both indelible and frustratingly underappreciated. Byen won't change your life but it might change your mind about a genre you thought you knew.

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