Todd Rundgren, Emil Nikolaison, Hans-Peter Lindstrøm - Runddans

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  • I first heard about Runddans in 2012, when I was visiting the Norwegian city of Stavanger for a music conference. Emil Nikolaisen, of the alt-rock band Serena-Maneesh, was giving a presentation on his unconventional production style. Partway through the talk he excitedly announced that he and Lindstrøm, who was playing later in the week, had begun work on a project with none other than Todd Rundgren. This sounded like a great idea, given the debt that both Norwegian artists owe to this maverick figure: Nikolaisen as an auteur producer, whose wild studio techniques ought to make more waves than they do, and Lindstrøm as an ambassador for Rundgren's brand of prog excess. Runddans's title is a reference to the man himself of course, but it also incorporates the Norwegian word for "round," and that's just what the album is: a single circular composition, dancing endlessly around the same material. With each revolution comes a fresh gaggle of instruments. Synths beget guitars beget woodwinds and vibraphones, outlining everything from celestial rock ("Wave Of Heavy Red (Disko-Nektar)") to weirdo lounge-pop ("Rundt Rundt Rundt"). Tying it all together is a single chord progression, a stargazing loop straight out of the Lindstrøm playbook. Much like something from Smallhans, it creates the illusion of perpetual uplift, building anticipation for some glorious climax. Unlike on that album, such a climax never comes. It all starts so well. Opener "B For Birth" is chill-inducing, a roiling cloud of Shepard Tones and gleaming wholetone scales. As the chord progression first shimmers into motion on "Liquid Joy From The Womb Of Infinity," and a 4/4 pulse throbs low in the mix, it seems as if we're on the brink of prog-disco euphoria. Instead we lurch into a cacophony of edited drum fills, before being dumped out into the aimless "Oppad, Over Skyene." This dynamic repeats several times, and each time it's more frustrating. The moments of studio bombast, when they come, are too messy and indistinct to give Nikolaisen's production chops a fair showing. Even worse, the drums remain thin and muffled, when one of Lindstrøm's full-fat disco thuds might have been just the bedrock the album sorely needs. When Rundgren worries about "drawing the audience in" on the phone call-sampling "Ravende Gal (Full Circle)," it's not drums he's talking about but vocals. These he supplies himself, first in a wordless croon (on the meandering "Solus"), and then with a few lines of phoned-in pop romanticism that become the album's central theme. This theme, delivered in a strained falsetto, is the record's cheesiest component and its largest flaw. It serves as a reminder that the Rundgren worshipped by younger musicians like Nikolaisen and Lindstrøm—the mid'-70s Rundgren of, say, Initiation—is not the same as present day Rundgren, who dabbled in EDM-pop on 2013's State. Runddans is an intriguing and sometimes fun experiment, but it's not quite a meeting of great musical minds. A pessimist might say that they've missed one another by a few decades.
  • Tracklist
      01. B For Birth 02. Liquid Joy From The Womb Of Infinity 03. Oppad, Over Skyene 04. Solus 05. Put Your Arms Around Me 06. Altar Of Kauaian Six String (Todd’s Solo) 07. Out of My Head (Lone Vibes) 08. Rundt Rundt Rundt 09. Wave of Heavy Red (Disko-Nektar) 10. T.H.E. Golden Triangle (Dry Mouthed Gargoyles In A Fountain Of Fluorescent Shepard Tones) 11. Ravende Gal (Full Circle) 12. Ohr..Um..Am..Amen (Aftermath)