Square One album cover
Square One

Bjørn Torske , Prins Thomas

2017
Smalltown Supersound

Torske and Thomas were two major pillars of Norwegian space disco — the former a foundational architect, the latter a prolific disciple — and yet it took them roughly two decades for them to follow up on the early collaborative potential they’d heard in an unfinished late ’90s recording session together. But maybe it’s for the best that it took this long: after finding their footing in the early ’00s and filling out a formidable catalog by the end of the decade, their creative rapport here feels like a necessary step back, taking stock of what they’d built and figuring out how to maintain its essence in more streamlined and headphone/at-home listening forms. Square One feels spare and subdued at first — a canny trick by veterans of the form who are so adept at nuanced depth that even the quietest, simplest moments have the underlying tension of a slow-burn buildup. There’s a few deliberate gestures in dub’s direction, some more glancing than others:  “On U” attaches an Adrian Sherwood label namedrop onto a track that might not outwardly sound quite like anything he engineered for that label, but its deceptively simple motorik art-rock churn unfurls a climactic rhythmic sprawl as it grows out of its constraints. “Steintongt” and its open-field reverb looms with a pared-back spaciousness that drives home the unruly interplay of its skulking bass/conga groove and the lustrous synths that coats the rhythm with melting chrome. And some tracks draw so deeply from a dynamic atmosphere of layered percussive interplay and metamorphosis that, with the shuddering, rumbling ambience that drives cuts like “Arthur” and “12 Volt”, all they really have to do is introduce a minimalist bassline melody or a few stray synth/piano chords to bounce back against the drums to make that groove feel on the knife’s edge of unpredictability. Square One almost feels relaxed in its minimalism, but it’s the kind of relaxation you might feel in the passenger car of a train hurtling through a late night voyage where the weather could turn inclement at a moment’s notice.

Nate Patrin

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