Album Review: R̦yksopp РJunior

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Many have waited long for Junior — this writer included. Röyksopp, the Norwegian duo famous for creating the hooky electronica that became the darling soundtrack choice for every TV advertisement, director and soccer clip-show artisan throughout the last eight years, have decided to kill their darlings so to speak. Their third effort, Junior, is a well-mannered and excellently raised lovechild between their two previous outstanding albums: The Understanding and Melody A.M.

Junior, for all its lovable qualities, is mischievous. The short, sort of instrumental faux-pop groove of “Happy Up Here” is flourishing in its contemporary electro-suit while borrowing bleeps from the fan-favourite, “Eple” (some have stated the contrary, but there really is nothing more, nothing less borrowed than that). The lead single left a lot to the imagination when it was released prior to the album.

Röyksopp turned female guest vocals into an art form itself, even before Kleerup decided to walk down a similar path. Thanks to pop blasts “Only This Moment” and “Circuit Breaker”, Kate Havnevik has always been a regular favorite, and while she’s not present on Junior, there’s a handful of old and new faces, who grant their vocal styles to the majority of the twelve tracks, all of which minimalize Röyksopp’s own vocal presence.

Robyn and Lykke Li are two of the three (!) Swedish divas baked into the duo’s magical surroundings. The former appears on the dancey, lovelorn odyssey of 9-to-5 despair “The Girl And The Robot”, and the latter is sitting fingering sweetly but longingly on the phone while singing “My mechanical heart, how it tears me apart,” during the celestial and intriguingly disguised post-R & B tune, “Miss It So Much”. As a perfect contrast, Karin Dreijer-Andersson (a.k.a. equal parts of both The Knife and Fever Ray) submits her unique voice to the bolting yet dreamingly feverish “This Must Be It.” Unfortunately, she of all people with good judgment couldn’t tell her own masterpiece “Like A Pen” and her collaboration on The Understanding (“What Else Is There”) apart from the unaware electro-stomper mishap of “Tricky Tricky”. Without any additional special effects on her voice, she’s forced to compete with the threatening synths that sound like they could have come from just about any electro house b-side track of the ’00s, something that does not evolve into anything – not even a proper dance track! What’s interesting, however, is that “Tricky Tricky” is an enjoyable track, thanks to Röyksopp’s ability to produce something bad into good.

Speaking of which, Junior is one long showcase of production skills, tricks and entrepreneur spirit. Röyksopp have never sounded so synthetic or coherent before. Most songs fall towards the five minute mark and patient structure building is chosen over the immediate hooks that once got them hooked on the advertising circuit. Yet at the same time, this flawless and beautifully produced album may be a tad overproduced.

But not much harm has been done. Röyksopp have forged chord progressions and key changes over electronic beats and basslines that draws influences from house, techno, electro, etc. It’s almost impossible to hear how deliberately Röyksopp have added sweeteners to their mix of charming melodies, awe-inspiring harmonies and characteristically magical atmospheres. There’s definitely a shiny surface, spotted with emotional depth, gratifying light and unassertive darkness all at the same time in each and every track.

One great example is “Vision One”, featuring long-time collaborator and vocalist Anneli Drecker, who reappears throughout the album, where her flexible singing twists and turns on top of a typical Röyksopp synth groove that indicates but does not conclude pure funk. Drecker’s voice is mixed with, if not auto-tuned, a ’90s pop melody, a style that seems rampant throughout Junior. The track (in addition to the other Drecker-guested track “You Don’t Have A Clue”) is also a splendid example of how the duo have found a balance between their more ambient electronica from Melody A.M and the straightforwardly majestic, poppy and uptempo work of The Understanding.

Junior might not contain Röyksopp’s strongest tracks, but, paradoxically, it’s their strongest album. How confusing is that? Genius is confusing sometimes, and that just so happens to describe the Norwegian duo. It’s too early to tell if Senior, the rumored laid-back, ambient follow-up to Junior, will find Röyksopp in any sort of contemplation of maturity, but for now, we can all enjoy the adolescent qualities of Junior.

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