Album Review: Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas – III

[Smalltown Supersound; 2020]

Norwegian producers Lindstrøm and Prins Thomas always have something in the works. This year alone, Prins Thomas has released Træns, itself a follow-up to 2019’s varied collection Ambitions. Lindstrøm, meanwhile, released the live album Live at Henie Onstad Kunstsenter. Together, the duo has worked on a remix of Wollongong-based indie pop band Pira. So, yes, III is technically their first collaborative studio album in 11 years, but fans have hardly been starved for output.

Nevertheless, III does share a lot in common with its direct predecessor, 2009’s II. Both albums are tame and serene, yet equally intricate in their compositions. Both contain no tracks that fall below the five-minute mark (“Harmonia”, the longest of III’s six tracks, clocks in at just over eight). Free of constraints, the duo do what they do best: let their music evolve and shift without ever sounding like there’s a concerted effort to do so. Call it space disco, call it ambient house, listeners are always rewarded with multiple passes.

The ethereal “Grand Finale” would indeed make for an appropriate closer, if it weren’t the opening track. Slow synth chords start the first minute before a calm, rolling percussion joins in. The center rests on a combination of arpeggiating synth lines, twinkling keys, and echoing effects that give the song a cavernous feel. Next comes “Martin 5000”, a track that strikes a vibe that crosses between futurism and tropicalia; the arrangements revolve around a muted yet irresistible groove that evokes a beach at sunset. One might be reminded of fellow Norwegian producer Todd Terje, who’s also collaborated with Lindstrøm and Thomas over the years.

Lindstrøm and Thomas have spoken about the democratic nature of their collaborations, which consists of them working apart and then exchanging their creations. “The tracks that Lindstrøm sent me this time were almost like standard house tracks,” Thomas explained. “I already had an idea of what I wanted to do, so I forced those tracks into new shoes and dresses.” This approach is best heard in “Small Stream”, a tripping, electronic waltz with a contained groove that contributes to its hypnotic energy. The song’s final stretch — built around a slinking, descending synth — calls back to a similar approach used in “Rà-àkõ-st”, the opener of Lindstrøm’s 2012 album Smalhans.

The album’s latter third further dials down the energy, relying on ambiance to take the lead. This is particularly noticeable on “Harmonica”, the album’s longest track, and also its weakest. The song opens with a wall of synths that sounds like wind blowing in your face, which is quickly followed by another bass groove that acts as the song’s backbone. Yet, following the introduction of a percussion beat and the occasional electronic flourish starting around minute three, the song holds steady, never forgetting its place. It’s an odd decision considering what the rest of III accomplishes in far less time.

Things come to a solid conclusion on “Birdstrik”, where the chirping synths indeed evoke birds calling to each other: we may not understand what’s being said, but there’s a line of communication nonetheless. Here, the duo embrace production values that resemble Nicolas Jaar’s Against All Logic project; a punching beat lies at the song’s core while crunching synths dotted around the song add a slight industrial edge.

Regardless of the energy used in the moment, Lindstrøm and Thomas create music that feels at home in many environments. This is particularly relevant as 2020 nears its end. Listeners can make of III what they will, whether that be slowly dancing along in their rooms, or laying back and taking the music in, waiting for the world to start up again.