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Smalhans Review

by K. Ross Hoffman

Hans-Peter Lindstrøm threw devotees of his shimmering cosmic disco productions for a loop in early 2012 with the release of Six Cups of Rebel, a wild and wooly joyride through nutty, prog-flavored excess -- complete with bizarro cartoon voices -- that was by turns campy, grotesque, and sublimely gorgeous. It earned a swift and not entirely undeserved appraisal as Lindstrøm's "difficult" third album (not that his earlier work -- say, the epic peregrinations of 2008's exalted Where You Go I Go Too -- made for instantly digestible listening. either.) It also set up a somewhat pat, preordained narrative for Smalhans -- which was recorded immediately after Cups and released a mere nine months later -- as a much-needed back-to-basics corrective. It's certainly true that there's something of a pendulum swing in effect here, but it's also reductive (and unfairly dismissive of the extraordinary Cups) to label this a simple return to form. For one thing, this is almost equally foreign territory for the producer, who has never before turned his hand to dancefloor material quite this focused and streamlined, especially in such a straightforward presentation: the six cuts on Smalhans, each named for a traditional Norwegian foodstuff (from sausage to waffles), each sitting tidily within the four- to six-minute range, all set up their groove (florid disco; thumpy tech-funk) and ride it out, snugly and surely. At the same time, while it's hardly as overtly eccentric, there's nearly as much complexity, waggish humor, and dizzying invention on display here as on Cups, made all the more dazzling by how neatly it fits into such a tight framework. The album was mixed by Lindstrøm's pal and countryman Todd Terje (who also created extended single mixes for several Smalhans tunes), and there are clear parallels with Terje's recent, highly melodic analog-synth fantasias like "Raygsh" and "Inspector Norse" -- but there's really nobody out there who shares Lindstrøm's compositional knack for combining melody and misdirection; layering on the time-stretched hemiolas and side-stepping modulations, cycling through keys and textures with a masterful handle on tension and release. "V_s-S_k_-Rv," in particular, stretches this approach to wonderfully delirious extremes, with each circuitous, contrapuntal build-up growing more daringly suspended than the last until a final, impossibly constrained moment of tension lunges back to earth with two massive snare thwacks. While each of these six pieces adds its own kernel of flavor -- from the moody, incrementally shifting shuffle of "L_mm-_l-__r" to the triumphal, heaven-seeking "V_-Fl_-R" -- and each is more than satisfying as a stand-alone bit of celestial dance euphoria, Smalhans is, like its predecessors, ultimately its own complete, unified statement; one that is, in its deceptively humble way, as ambitious and assured as anything he's done.

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