Review: Prins Thomas, 'Principe Del Norte' These nine pieces expand to nearly 100 minutes of "cosmic disco" music, soundtracking a voyage into the deepest spaces of the mind.

Review: Prins Thomas, 'Principe Del Norte'

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Prins Thomas, Principe Del Norte Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Courtesy of the artist

When the music of Norwegian producer Prins Thomas began to be heard outside of his native country back in 2005, it was crafted in collaboration with his friend Hans-Peter Lindstrøm. The material was deemed "cosmic disco" — a fitting tag, as the duo loved both the moon-boot-stomping beat of 1970s disco and the ARP- and Moog-heavy head-trip tracks made by the likes of Giorgio Moroder, Herbie Hancock and Klaus Schulze, which hinted at the firmament high above the dance floor.

And while Lindstrøm and Prins Thomas haven't collaborated together since 2009's album II, Prins Thomas has continued to mine that fertile ground between the heady and the body-moving as a solo artist. Last year's overly generous dance mix, Paradise Goulash, clocked in at nearly 60 tracks and moved from the bubbling Balearic of Wally Badarou to the minimal techno of Robert Hood, emphasizing the "disco" side of the equation. But for his fourth solo album, Principe Del Norte, Thomas is firmly focused on the "cosmic." The nine tracks expand to nearly 100 minutes of music, soundtracking a voyage into the deepest spaces of the mind.

Which is not to categorize Principe Del Norte as merely an ambient excursion. The album's first two-thirds do evoke zero gravity, which can be exhilarating and anxiety-inducing in equal measure. Layer after layer of arpeggiated synthesizers stack up in "A1," building to almost dizzying heights. Each new synth line and shift reveals a new array of patterns, creating density that brings to mind Terry Riley's early electric organ explorations. Warmer and slower keys open "A2" before gently gliding into a slow, flanged drum-machine beat and distant chiming guitar. And the 14 minutes of "C" strike a balance between drift and dissonance.

Prins Thomas calls this his ode to late-'90s ambient music, and while it does love the tones of folks like Pete Namlook, The Orb, Black Dog and Spacetime Continuum, it also hearkens back to Prins Thomas' beloved '70s prog, especially the Virgin Records back catalog and side-long tracks. It's a good fit, since Thomas has a knack for remixes that often extend into double-digit runtimes, and he's comfortable working on such a grand scale. Some long, mesmeric sections draw on Faust's playful and noisy song, "Krautrock" from Faust IV. With its spindly guitar melody, throbbing modular synthesizers and careful build, "B" evokes Steve Hillage's Rainbow Dome Musick, while the pinging, percolating blips of "D" sound like something Ashra's Manuel Göttsching might have concocted in the late '70s.

Almost an hour in, one of Prins Thomas' telltale stomping beats finally appears in "E." Over the last half-hour, Thomas gives his spacey tracks some propulsion. Album highlight "G" keeps all the ethereal washes of vintage synthesizers and tingling arpeggios aloft while also coupling them to a two-note bass ostinato and thumping beat — in the process proving that 10 years on, Prins Thomas can still craft some thrilling cosmic disco.