In the Nordic constellation of space-disco personalities, Lindstrøm, Todd Terje, and Prins Thomas represent a sort of Orion's Belt—three main players linked not only by proximity, but also by the interchangable nature with which they collaborate and disseminate their distinct brand of cosmic dance music. This co-mingling makes it easy to lump them together, but when each is considered on his own, differences do appear, even if they are subtle. This has become especially apparent as the trio grows up and out of the confining musical box into which they were initially corralled. While Todd Terje has maintained a relative consistency throughout his career, Lindstrøm has been almost schizophrenic in his attempts to break any molds forming around what he should or should not sound like. Thomas Moen Hermansen's latest full-length as Prins Thomas is similarly defiant, but in less dramatic fashion. While many of the intergalactic signifiers typically attributed to his music still apply, Hermansen's latest batch of quirky discoid techno is a far cry from his 2010 self-titled debut, his two albums with Lindstrøm, or any space-disco typecasting.
The one track on Prins Thomas II that most closely resembles his earlier work is "Tjukkas Pa Karussel." With the oompa-oompa of its marching-band tuba, the layered splats of MIDI horns, a jangling cow bell, and its folky vocal chanting, the song holds up to anything on his last record and could even be mistaken for being from those same recording sessions. But for all its similarity to previous standouts like "Wendy Not Walter" or "Nattønsket," "Tjukkas Pa Karussel" is without the lush denseness that characterized Hermansen's first solo outing. This is true of Prins Thomas II across the board. It's more minimalistic in its approach, doing away with much of the Kraut and prog overtones—and the organic instrumentation—in favor of delicate techno drum programming, elongated and repetitious movements, and gossamer atmospherics that serve more as musical hues than full-blown colors or textures.
"Bobletekno" is easily the centerpiece of Hermansen's leaner sound. Rolling out a static-fuzz beat that remains unencumbered for two of the song's opening minutes, there's a Plastikman spirit here as each element takes its time emerging and evolving. A new-age melody slips into the mix with such ease that there's never actually a concrete arrival; it's the antithesis of the proverbial drop. Instead of knocking the listener over the head, the tension and release of "Bobletekno" could go completely unnoticed by those who don't invest themselves in the track. Somewhere near the 10-minute mark, the growing collection of rippling synths comes to a head and then disappears as quietly as it came, fading out of earshot and leaving nothing behind except whispers and plucked strings. It's angelic techno that's just as deserving of the term cosmic, but not in a way Prins Thomas fans are likely used to.
The stripped-to-the-bone nature of the music here is such that many tracks feel incomplete on their own. "Bobletekno" reappears as "Bobletekno (perkmiks)," which is nothing more than a drum track addendum to the original. "Flau Pappadens 1" and "Flau Pappadens 2" also play out this way, with the second version serving as a skeleton framework of the original's padded-drum disco funk. "Bom Bom," though entirely percussive, can at least stand alone in a beachside drum-circle jam-session sort of way. Album opener "Symfonisk Utviklingshemming" begins with all the promise of a song that's going to blossom into something as subtly epic as "Bobletekno," but ultimately fails to do so on its own.
All of these seemingly fragmented entries would be rather disappointing were it not for the fact that they are all brought together in one final movement—a continuous DJ mix. It's like an 'aha' moment; without it, Hermansen's concept wouldn't successfully come together. Not only does it communicate Prins Thomas' commanding skill as a DJ, it gives meaning to tracks that flounder by themselves. Given the circular nature of Hermansen's DJ style, tracks like "Bobletekno (perkmix)" and "Flau Pappadens 2" make sense when they surface in the mix to revisit the themes of their more fully realized counterparts. As such, it's a disservice to Prins Thomas II to listen to the individual tracks before diving into the full mix. The mix is clearly how these tracks were meant to be heard, especially considering that one of the album's highlights, a chugging acid trip that surfaces at the three-quarter mark of the mix, is the track DJs are likely to come clamoring for. For now, the identity of this gem remains a mystery. Of course it does. Like fellow sonic cosmonaut Lindstrøm, leave it to Prins Thomas to buck any conventions before they start to get, well, conventional.