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Prins Thomas - Ambitions Music Album Reviews

The Norwegian producer rediscovers the simple joy in his space-disco sound on his most cohesive LP in years.

At some point over the course of five solo albums, Prins Thomas’ space-disco sound slipped into autopilot. His perky beats and basslines were pure ear candy, but on his recent solo albums—2016’s Principe del Norte, 2017’s Prins Thomas 5—the really interesting stuff happened when he powered down his drum machines and let his tracks spiral out into synth-soaked minimalism. On Ambitions, the Norwegian producer born Thomas Moen Hermansen ducks back inside his groove-fueled wheelhouse, but this time he seems to be reveling in it.


Some of that freshness may stem from the fact that Ambitions’ tracks weren’t originally intended as pieces of an album; they’re based on stray ideas sketched out on his laptop, or even hummed directly into a handheld recorder, while traveling and gigging around the world, and then fleshed out in Hermansen’s’ studio in Asker, an Oslo suburb. That shotgun genesis might help account for the range of the album, which takes in woozy soul, polyrhythmic drum studies, slow-motion dream techno, and even a couple of songs that might be mistaken for Moon Safari outtakes.

The mood is cohesive throughout, but Prins Thomas never sounds like he’s repeating himself. Each song is a unique piece of the puzzle. If there’s a unifying theme, it’s warmth: sunny, wistful, as suggestive of spring. The chirping birds of opener “Foreplay” make way for the laid-back disco of “XSB,” which is whipped as frothy as a sugary meringue. Toward the end, melancholy strings rise in the mix, triggering memories of Massive Attack.

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For fans of Prins Thomas at his headiest, two long songs at the center of the album should do the trick: The dazzlingly polyrhythmic “Ambitions” morphs, over 12 minutes, from 6/8 drum circle to a four-to-the-floor funk stomp. (In a note accompanying the album, along with shout-outs to Haruomi Hosono, Daniel Lanois, Shinichi Atobe, and Ricardo Villalobos, Hermansen thanks the late Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit, and Liebezeit’s example rings loud and clear.) Where “Ambitions” is knotty, “Fra Miami til Chicago,” is smooth and pleasingly predictable, teasing out a chiming guitar melody over a clean 4/4 beat and rosy bass synth; it’s the closest the album comes to the blissful soundscaping of his last album, and it’s enough to make you wish he’d dedicate an entire album to this style.

But the album’s penultimate and most far-reaching song, “Urmannen,” offers the best of both worlds: It’s a progged-out disco bubbler with all the nuance of Talk Talk in their blacked-out studio, delicate tendrils of sound disappearing into the loamy darkness. It’s the rare occasion that Hermansen’s ambient interests align so neatly with his disco instincts—a small step, perhaps, toward a new era in his exploration.



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