A sort of rom-com rendered in space disco.
The latest from Hans-Peter Lindstrøm is a sort of rom-com rendered in space disco, a breezy slice of mid-summer romanticism, delightful to curl up with and let your mind go blank. But It’s Alright Between Us as It Is is missing a lot of what we’ve come to love about Lindstrøm, especially his sense of grandeur.
He was once the most out-there of the Norwegian disconauts, opening his debut with a 29-minute suite and paying homage to prog with such records as Six Cups of Rebel and Runddans with Todd Rundgren. But his later albums weren’t received nearly as well as his earlier work, and his newest too often sounds like the less-inspired experiments of his countrymen Prins Thomas and Todd Terje, especially on “Tensions,” which uses a synth so beloved by the latter he named a whole EP, It’s the Arps, after it. There’s nothing bad here, just light-hearted fun. Everything works, but only because it plays it too safe to fail, and we frequently miss the dangerous, potentially-alienating risks once central to Lindstrøm’s livelihood.
It’s Alright Between Us as It Is begins with a burst of wah-wah guitar that derails into all manner of ambient pads and chimes. It’s a pretty good approximation of the music that plays during those “coming soon to DVD and video” disclaimers that play before a film, and once you hear it, you sink back like you do when you hear the 20th Century Fox or Universal themes, expecting to get lost in the record. But it is not to be: Too much of the album goes by before it really gets interesting—first by introducing the kittenish Frida Sundemo on vocals for “Sorry,” then by plummeting into something resembling an abyss from “Drift” through “Under the Trees.”
Part of what makes space disco so fun is how it uses the innocuous, mostly positive genre of disco to explore vast spaces, astral or subterranean. Unsurprisingly, this album gets better the deeper it tunnels. “Drift” is sprawling and cavernous, reprising the guitar from the beginning as a psychedelic tool of terror. “Under the Trees” lets the album trail off on an even more ominous note—though the mood never sours enough to break the romantic spell. They’re separated by two vocal tracks: “Shinin’” with Grace Hall is standard-issue diva disco that doesn’t leave much impression, but Jenny Hval is reliably ghoulish on “Like a Ghost.”
It might seem myopic to discuss space disco in 2017 now that most of its practitioners have transcended the genre. But this is very much within this subgenre, more so than the saucy forays into Latin jazz and lounge Terje made on 2014’s It’s Album Time and the endless ambient throb of Prins Thomas’s Principe del Norte. Paradoxically, Lindstrøm orbits a lot closer to home here than on anything else he’s ever done. It’s Alright Between Us as It Is comes across as a back-to-basics album. But there’s a problem with that: For Lindstrøm, “basics” were never part of the equation.