Published Jun 25, 2019A relatively new arrival to Norway's cosmic disco galaxy, Oslo-based André Bratten distinguished himself early with a decidedly darker and more ominous take on the style's usual freewheeling nature, often taking inspiration from more serious, down-to-earth political issues. (The Gode LP, from 2015, takes as its theme the hardships of Norway's rural population during the early 20th century, for instance.)
With a title like Pax Americana, it's clear Bratten has some extra-musical topics on his mind — the title track was recorded shortly after Donald J. Trump's election victory — and it translates to another mostly anxious and tense offering, although shot through with a few transcendent moments.
Things start out in the former register with the urgent slap of "HS," a Detroit-techno style cut (the album was made entirely with a limited set of analogue hardware — including a mixing desk once owned by ABBA, apparently) with a paranoid bass line that, if it could talk, would surely be preaching vigilance in uncertain times. It's a commanding start that's dulled somewhat by its followup, the surprisingly relaxed title track, which, despite its charged title, merely drifts aimlessly for seven minutes. Its gauzy synths and bubbling rhythms are compelling, but there's very little movement, and its unlikely many DJs will spin it in its entirety.
Bratten revisits this mood far more successfully at the end of the album, however, with the achingly gorgeous "Recreation." It's even longer, but spreads its elements out sparingly, leading to a melancholy crescendo that's almost worth the price of admission alone.
More brooding and pensive, "426" and "Commonwealth" make up the album's downtempo core, the former making use of analogue reel-to-reel sounds to interesting effect (Bratten's fondness for Boards of Canada shines through here), the latter offering up the album's most menacing deep synth growls. By the time penultimate track "Ranx" finally swoops in for some energetic AFX-style fun, Pax Americana has covered a fair amount of stylistic ground, and while a couple of tracks may prompt a meaningful glance at their runtimes, this is a strong and varied album overall. (Smalltown Supersound)