Todd Terje and the Olsens – The Big Cover Up – album review by Danny Vagnoni
Terje Olsen (stage name Todd Terje), the King of Summer jams from the Cold North, set a bold precedent with 2014’s It’s Album Time. A cohesive album that undulates from beach bar jams (“Strandbar”) to solemn ballads (“Johnny And Mary”), It’s Album Time is a tough act to follow.
With The Big Cover Up EP, Olsen decided on a covers record. Does it follow It’s Album Time? No, but Terje’s intent is different with this EP. Olsen’s The Big Cover Up gives us a short selection of songs from the disco canon to whet our palettes for the next big Terje release.
The EP starts with “Firecracker,” originally written by the so-called ‘father of exotica’ Martin Denny. The exotic flavor shows in the track, which blends caricatures of Japanese melodies with Pacific rhythms (look at the cover to the EP – now imagine that as a song). Bouncing synth bass mingles with Olsen’s trademark solo style, which blossoms as the song carries on. The melody, which emulates the timbre of a Japanese koto, syncs with kitschy voices and crescendos into a jarring climax. The result of this interplay is a mix of the whimsical and beautiful that Olsen so excels at.
“Disco Circus” follows. In harmony with its title, it’s a much more dance oriented tune than “Firecracker.” Still, it misses the mark a bit, especially for a Terje tune. The airy voices evoke “Svensk Sas” from It’s Album Time, but unlike “Svensk Sas,” “Disco Circus” doesn’t ever go anywhere – and exciting builds are crucial for a dance tune. Worth a listen, but a weaker track.
At first, I wasn't sure what to think of Olsen's interpretation of Boney M's "Baby Do You Wanna Bump." My initial instinct took this song out of its own context – that is, a bizarre, farcical invitation to bump.
But it grew on me. The strong, comically accented bum-P, layered with discordant-but-not-bad chords had me, at the same time, laughing out loud and tapping my foot. An enigma, for sure. How does it fit in with Terje's catalogue? Eh. Like "Johnny and Mary" from It's Album Time I'd never choose it over other songs, but if they album's playing through, okay.
“La Fête Sauvage (The Wild Party)” has an odd history that took a minute to track down and digest. La Fête Sauvage is also the title of a 1975 documentary about animal wildlife. Vangelis, a Greek composer also known for Aphrodite’s Child and their album 666, composed the score for “La Fête Sauvage.” Why Olsen decided on the score for a wildlife documentary escapes me.
That said, I’m glad he did: “La Fête Sauvage” is the best song on the EP. And Terje’s interpretation transcends the original, cutting out the animal calls and letting loose on the beat. Terje made this song sauvage in a way the original could never be.
Clocking in at seven minutes, “La Fête Sauvage” is an epic of complex synth bass, melancholy treble melody, and tropical, danceable drums. While the track starts out relatively standard Terje, it evolves gradually. Here, a haunting variation on the melody, there; a chilling caesura that surges dramatically into a final refrain until the song ends, perfect in its abruptness.
After that Wild Party, the rest of the EP – more covers by more Scandinavian electronic artists – is a disappointment. Dan Tyler’s “Firecracker” has swimming arpeggios and makes for a decent listen, but it’s all offset but a very rigid beat that makes it stilted. Prins Thomas’s “La Fête Sauvage” is good, but it doesn’t measure up. Overall, it felt as though the bonus tracks, in spite of themselves, took away from the EP as a whole.
The Big Cover Up is by no means cohesive or without flaw, but give it a listen – it forms its own niche in Olsen’s discography and it’s well worth the half hour.