- by Joseph Majsterski Rating:7 Release Date:2016-02-21 Label: Smalltown Supersound
Prins Thomas has released a quadruple LP set, Principe Del Norte, that aspires to grandiosity but doesn't quite achieve it. Among the almost 100 minutes of music are a few truly excellent sections, but also a good number that fail to excite the imagination all that much. The good songs are great, but the rest are just dull. Luckily, this album comes out with a positive balance.
More of an electronic set than purely ambient, the album has a tendency to fall into repetitive grooves, rather than exploring soundscapes, with at least two tracks driven by extremely simplistic basslines that use only the most basic chord changes in predictable interverals and which essentially never surprise throughout the entirety of the song. And a lot of the songs feature the same fuzzy vibrato effect on the synth, which eventually wears out its welcome.
The album starts off pretty well, with the rolling, tinny melody of "A1" that gets bulked up by thicker synths in short order and progresses pretty rapidly through some fun combinations, bringing different effects to the forefront and then blending back in the bass, rhythms, and melodies. It's followed up by "A2", which is almost like a remix or reimagining of the first track. The particular settings are different, but the melody is a clear callback. The way the synth is used is pretty clever, with a funky clavinet sound being drawn out of it.
"B" spends an entire minute with a bassline that doesn't do much, before adding in some nice echoing guitar noodling. It slowly develops for a few more minutes, then quiets down before finally expanding with some solid synths, then proceeding through a few iterations of these essential bits: guitars, quiet, synths, round and round. For all this, it never reaches any sort of denouement, just peters out with some woodblock clicking at the end. "C" has a much more interesting vintage feel, nailing the tinny analog sound I associate with the late 70s and the optimistic feeling of outer space adventure. The song goes a little too atonal and twisted metal in the middle, but recovers nicely with lots of echoing, glittery synths pushing it along for most of the track.
"D" leads with a fizzy, foggy bit of effervescence, and lets it linger for far too long, before adding in some clickety clackety percussion, and letting that linger too long. Then everything fades down to almost nothing. Then finally, finally, after six minutes, this amazing synth melody brings a huge payoff, and you think, why the hell did we just waste so much time getting to the good part? There's an awesome transition to a second melody girded by a great bassline. But that's over all too soon, and the song slowly meanders its way back down to the dullness of the intro. "E" is another song that takes a while to do anything worthwhile, but gets a cool groove going through its middle, with some fun, percolating synths, and another dose of that excellent clavinet. It does just burble out to nothing at its end though.
"F", while inoffensive, is rather dull, starting off with a simple rhythm and predictable bassline, and then... doing nothing with it. A few sound effects are layered in after the first couple minutes, but the essential core of the song never changes. The song comes off sounding like an extremely flaccid dance track rather than a journey into the neurosphere. And one of the best things a good ambient electronic song can do is take you on a journey. Thankfully, "G" is a fine example of that. Rather than getting stuck in a rut, it's constantly evolving and modulating itself, unveiling further wonders as you're carried along. While the song shares a lot of features found in other tracks, it just does a better job of mixing things up and keeping your interest.
"H" finishes the with some simple handclaps and deep bass. These are joined by what sound like maracas, and then they all just hang out for a few minutes before a more interesting section with some heavy, burbling bass shows up. But even this doesn't do a whole lot, and gets dull after overstaying its welcome, just like a lot of the ideas on display. The song switches back to its primary mode, then all the beats drop, and you're left with that fuzzy synth again, which echoes its way out.
I like ambient music. I like electronic music. And I like this, sorta. But I feel it's unnecessarily long, as if Thomas said, wow, check out this huge release I made, be amazed that it takes up four vinyls. But there aren't enough ideas for 100 minutes of music. Cut the length in half, and this could be amazing. Still, there are lots of pleasing sounds to be found, and even the dull stuff works as background music. But this album fails to capture the true brilliance of a lot of ambient electronic: it's not deep enough in most places to work as both background music and as something worthy of attentive listening. Still, I've listened to it a lot, and it's grown on me over time, such that me initial dismissal of it has been mostly withdrawn. Despite all my nitpicking and griping, I do mostly enjoy it.
Finally heard some of this, and really liked 'H' which I thought was [mostly] deceptively understated - really creative shifts in beat and well timed SFX