Röyksopp – The Inevitable End

The Inevitable End isn’t the inevitable end of Röyksopp as a recording entity; the grimly titled album was their farewell to the album as the format in which they’d be releasing their work. That’s a very sad farewell indeed, because some of Röyksopp’s back catalog, including Melody A.M. and Junior, convinced me that maybe the album still had something to offer, and that the entire world wasn’t giving up to the whims of streaming and issuing singles only. And ironically, The Inevitable End falls into that category as well – an album so thematically cohesive that listening to it in one sitting is more rewarding than just hearing any one song from it in isolation.

The theme that recurs most often on The Inevitable End doesn’t become evident until you’re a couple of songs past the inevitable beginning. Beginning with “Sordid Affair”, whose subject matter is quite literally what it says on the box, the album seems to be chronicling different stages and perspectives of an extramarital relationship of some kind. (I always question this as subject matter for a song, especially since the songwriter’s going to be subjected to a lot of scrutiny afterward, i.e. “did you write this as a result of a personal experience?” “Sordid Affair” and “Compulsion” describe the rush of the illicit relationship while it’s happening, and “You Know I Have To Go” and “Save Me” explore the end of it from two perspectives. “I Had This Thing” mourns the relationship, and in a way, “Rong” does too, being an almost classically-flavored piece with a single repeating lyric (“what the f___ is wrong with you?”).

Röyksopp has become famous for its all-star line-up of guest vocalists, and while Robyn is all over the first two tracks of The Inevitable End, the real standout MVP who emerges is Jamie Irrepressible, vocalist on “You Know I Have To Go”, “I Had This Thing”, “Compulsion”, and “Here She Comes Again”. He’s got an incredible range and a great sense for dynamics, as his usual hushed delivery on “I Had This Thing” suddenly explodes into something more pleading and anguished toward the end of the song. (Spoiler: Röyksopp has continued as an entity that issues singles, and they continued to work with Jamie after this album, notably on the excellent “Something In My Heart”, so obviously they know a good thing when they hear it.)

“Coup De Grace” deflates the album’s somewhat steamy topic, filling the obligatory instrumental-only slot that’s become a tradition since “Röyksopp’s Night Out” on the first album. The album closer (and the farewell of Röyksopp as a duo that turns out albums) is “Thank You”, which works as effectively as part of the album’s storyline as it does without any of those trappings.

4 out of 4I’ll really miss Röyksopp as an “album band” – their best work has reminded me of the heyday of the Alan Parsons Project, both production-wise and as proponents of concept-based theme albums. It’s sad to hear them giving up on the latter. The singles that have arrived since The Inevitable End have been fantastic – “Never Ever” and “Something In My Heart” would be highlights of an album if they were on an album. But, I get it, album sales aren’t what drives iTunes…especially if no one wants to continue making them.

Order this CD

  1. Skulls (3:46)
  2. Monument (TIE Version)(featuring Robyn) (4:46)
  3. Sordid Affair (featuring Man Without Country) (6:19)
  4. You Know I Have To Go (featuring Jamie Irrepressible) (7:31)
  5. Save Me (featuring Susanne Sundfør) (4:38)
  6. I Had This Thing (featuring Jamie Irrepressible) (5:46)
  7. Rong (featuring Robyn) (2:32)
  8. Here She Comes Again (featuring Jamie Irrepressible) (5:04)
  9. Running To The Sea (featuring Susanne Sundfør) (4:52)
  10. Compulsion (featuring Jamie Irrepressible) (6:57)
  11. Coup De Grace (3:14)
  12. Thank You (6:15)

Released by: EMBAS
Release date: November 21, 2014
Total running time: 61:40

Royksopp – Senior

Royksopp - SeniorThis album has been hotly anticipated since, well, the last album Royksopp released. As is generally known now, Senior was recorded in tandem with 2009’s Junior, and the intention was to release them at opposite ends of that year, with the more upbeat, youthful Junior arriving – appropriately – in the spring, and the more somber Senior landing during the winter months. It was always known that Senior would be less cheerful and virtually all-instrumental. That might be enough to put some prospective listeners off, but this is Royksopp: the same outfit that’s brought us epic instrumentals such as “Royksopp’s Night Out”, “Epie” and “Royksopp Forever”.

Senior is indeed a much moodier album than Junior, but this doesn’t mean that rhythm has been left at the door; the second track is an instrumental version of Junior‘s “Tricky Tricky”. But it’s the tracks that don’t resemble Junior which are the real standouts. The heart of Senior lies in the one-two punch of “The Alcoholic” and “Senior Living”, both laid-back pieces with a hypnotic groove. “Senior Living”‘s languid guitar work and choral textures add to the spacious feel and instantly make it one of the all-time great Royksopp instrumentals, while “The Alcoholic” has a mesmerizingly unpredictable combination of a keyboard loop and guitar. Neither is particularly flashy from an instrumental standpoint, but they also never quite fade into background music.

If you think you’re detecting a pattern of mentions of an instrument on doesn’t normally associate with Royksopp, you’re not imagining it: the 4 out of 4real surprise of Senior is how often some very nice guitar work pops up, with “The Forsaken Cowboy” and “The Fear” both featuring six-string supplements to Royksopp’s usual sound. It’s an unusual enough addition to Royksopp’s arsenal that I’m already wondering how it might work its way into the duo’s next album. Senior is good enough that it’s already got me hungry for that next entry.

Order this CD

  1. …And The Forest Began To Sing (1:52)
  2. Tricky Two (7:53)
  3. The Alcoholic (5:12)
  4. Senior Living (5:11)
  5. The Drug (6:00)
  6. Forsaken Cowboy (5:30)
  7. The Fear (7:03)
  8. Coming Home (5:07)
  9. A Long, Long Way (4:02)

Released by: EMI
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 47:50

Royksopp – Junior

Royksopp - JuniorIf there’s one group active currently that I wish would release stuff more often, it’s this Norwegian duo. Their dance music, which manages to be bouncy and chilled-out at the same time, is layered, well-arranged, and just fine for listening to even if you’re not dancing…and it seems like they take forever between projects. Then again, they have yet to turn out a clunker of an album, so maybe I shouldn’t complain. Junior, their third studio album, carried with it the promise of combining the best elements of Melody A.M. and The Understanding – two very different projects. I didn’t have any major issues with either of those two prior albums, so surely this wouldn’t be a bad combination.

Junior‘s best tunes – and, by no small coincidence, its first two singles – are right up front. “Happy Up Here” is a peppy, laid-back dance number, and an awfully catchy one at that. But it’s followed by what has to be the catchiest damn song I’ve heard in all of 2009 to date, and one of the best things Royksopp’s ever done: “The Girl And The Robot”, an ’80s-styled piece of electronica featuring vocals by Robyn (still a familiar fixture in the European music scene despite seeming like a one-hit wonder ten years ago on the U.S. charts). The song is not only infectiously catchy, but perfectly arranged and produced – seriously, I can just listen to it over and over again, it’s that good.

The rest of the album is no slouch, though – “Vision One” and especially “You Don’t Have A Clue” are highlights, and “Miss It So Much” is catchy enough musically but hindered a bit by repetitive lyrics. Royksopp’s instrumental honor is upheld by the chilled-out but still interestingly-put-together “Royksopp Forever”. If there’s one track worth skipping, it’s “Tricky Tricky” – maybe this is a point at which I’m just too old for the material, but neither the lyrics nor the music appeal to me. The lyrics especially seem trite and silly; I realize that the lyrics aren’t really the driving force on a dance track, but if 4 out of 4they had to have album filler, surely they could’ve done better than this.

That, however, is only a single song; the rest of Junior is strong enough that it’s still a more than worthwhile listening experience. Interstingly, Royksopp is planning to release another album, Senior, late this year – if it’s anything like Junior, we’re in for a treat.

Order this CD

  1. Happy Up Here (2:43)
  2. The Girl And The Robot (4:28)
  3. Vision One (4:59)
  4. This Must Be It (4:41)
  5. Royksopp Forever (4:59)
  6. Miss It So Much (5:01)
  7. Tricky Tricky (5:59)
  8. You Don’t Have A Clue (4:33)
  9. Silver Cruiser (4:36)
  10. True To Life (5:50)
  11. It’s What I Want (3:06)

Released by: Astralwerks
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 50:55

Royksopp – Back To Mine

On the surface, it sounds like a neat idea – you ask a celebrity DJ or remixer to assemble a bunch of their formative favorites, those singles that got them interested in the business, and put their own spin on them, literally. That’s the idea behind the Back To Mine series, which has thus far cranked out a couple dozen of these compilations. They’re basically mixtapes on CD, assembled by the likes of Danny Tenaglia, Orbital, an so on. When a Back To Mine CD was announced, with a playlist personally picked out by those Norwegian masters of the downtempo genre, Royksopp, I thought I’d give it a try.

On the one hand, it’s interesting to hear the tunes that make Royksopp tick. With a playlist that goes from Talking Heads to Mike Oldfield Art Of Noise to Funkadelic, and stuff in between that I either haven’t heard in decades or have never heard of at all, there seems to be the promise of quite a fun ride. The other promise, though – that Royksopp will be giving you that guided tour and putting their own spin on things – is only partly fulfilled. I was eager to hear Art Of Noise a la Royksopp, simply because the collision of two of my favorite acts is a nearly irresistible proposition. Imagine my disappoint when Art Of Noise a la Royksopp turns out to be a short, exceedingly simple edit, sped up so it’s in the right key to dovetail with the tracks before and after it.

Some of these songs really do get the Royksopp treatment, such as Sphinx, which is transformed in much the same way that an obscure cover of Bacharach’s “Blue On Blue” was transformed into “So Easy” on Melody A.M.. I was amused to see a track by Emmanuel Splice slipped into the running order, that act being Royksopp itself under a pseudonym, effectively meaning that the track in question is Royksopp remixing Royksopp. But for the most part, it really does come across as a mixtape, with both the favorable and unfavorable things associated with that. You get to hear a lot of music and, like the weather, if you don’t like it, wait two minutes and it’ll change. But when the name “Royksopp” is what’s drawing people to this CD, 2 out of 4and there isn’t that much Royksopp in evidence, it smacks of a cheaply licensed throwaway compilation.

The selection of material is fine, but the scarcity of actual Royksopp remixing on what’s touted as an album of tunes remixed by Royksopp counts off some major, major points. Do yourself a favor, pass on this one, and wait for the group’s next original studio effort instead.

Order this CD

  1. Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) performed by Talking Heads (3:34)
  2. Sphinx performed by Harry Thumann (2:33)
  3. One More Round performed by Kasso (2:35)
  4. Ma Quale Idea performed by Pino D’Angino (3:54)
  5. Above And Beyond performed by Edgar Winter (1:38)
  6. Off Side performed by Ray Mang & Nathan D’Troit (1:37)
  7. Take A Chance performed by Mr. Flagio (4:22)
  8. Platinum (Part 3: Charleston) performed by Mike Oldfield (1:20)
  9. Meatball performed by Emmanuel Splice (2:53)
  10. That’s Hot performed by Jesse G (4:25)
  11. Legs performed by Art Of Noise (2:52)
  12. 3:00am (12″ version) performed by I-Level (1:49)
  13. Dirty Talk performed by Klein & MBO (3:08)
  14. It Ain’t Easy performed by Supermax (4:03)
  15. Could Be Heaven Like This performed by Idris Muhammad (8:26)
  16. Night People (New York Club Mix) performed by Guy Dalton (4:07)
  17. Get Closer (Vocal) performed by Valerie Dore (4:55)
  18. Can’t Be Serious performed by Ginny (5:12)
  19. I’m Never Gonna Tell It performed by Funkadelic (3:24)
  20. It’s Been A Long Time performed by The New Birth (5:40)

Released by: DMC Records
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 72:27

Royksopp – Royksopp’s Night Out

Royksopp - Royksopp's Night OutI’m generally not a huge fan of live albums – why bother, when studio albums deliver the meat and potatoes minus the screaming? – but every once in a while I’m either enthusiastic or curious enough about a specific act to go ahead and check out a concert recording. I was a little bit skeptical going into Royksopp’s Night Out, simply because Royksopp relies so heavily on technology, sampling and other studio techniques to create their sound – could they deliver the goods without that at their disposal?

The answer turns out to be a resounding yes. Things are energized considerably by getting a touring group together to bring the previously sampled drums, guitars and other instruments to life. There’s still plenty of technology on display, but in some cases the live performance actually obscures things less than the studio recordings: “What More Is There?”, to name just one example, finally reveals its somewhat bizarre lyrics clearly. (The flipside of that is that it seems like only half of the lyrics of “Sparks”, the lovely torchy number from Royksopp’s first album, are ever sung on stage.)

With its short running time, Royksopp’s Night Out hangs somewhere in the balance between EP and full album, and yet depending on where you look, it commands a full album price tag; that probably makes this collection something for the diehards only. But even if you think you’ve heard Royksopp before, this intriguing live recording reveals new layers and new energy by getting everyone out of the studio – in short, it’s exactly what a concert recording should be.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. What Else Is There? (3:19)
  2. Only This Moment (4:04)
  3. Remind Me (3:47)
  4. Sparks (5:09)
  5. Poor Leno (Istanbul Forever Take) (5:24)
  6. Go Away (5:35)
  7. Alpha Male (8:03)
  8. Go With The Flow (3:13)
  9. Teppefall (0:58)

Released by: Astralwerks
Release date: 2006
Total running time: 39:32

Royksopp – Melody A.M.

Royksopp - Melody A.M.This is one of those things that just sounds so unlikely the first time someone mentions it to you – oh, it’s a lounge/dance music outfit from Norway, you’ll love it. Sure, whatever, you think, and a couple of months after hearing it, you’ve got a copy of the bloody thing sitting on your CD shelf. Royksopp is actually a duo, though in this case it’s a duo of musical hermit crabs, both adept enough in studio trickery to make themselves sound like a full band, and sometimes more.

The hook that really drew me into this CD was “Royksopp’s Night Out”, a quirky mock-orchestral instrumental which sounds like maybe it’s trying to be something grand and epic…and then sounds like maybe it’s just been pulling your leg from the word go. There’s something here that reminds me of Alan Parsons’ best instrumental pieces, both in terms of execution/style and song length, and it always grabs me. In a good way.

Running a close second on my favorites list for this album is the light vocal dance number “Remind Me”, a less elaborate tune which is still catchy, and sounds like it’s been sent forward in time from the early 80s new wave/new romantic movement. Musically, it’s exceedingly simple – a verse of the vocal, followed by a keyboard echoing the same melody note for note, and nothing ever really resolves into something you could definitively call a chorus. But it’s hooky enough to reel me in for repeated listens.

Other highlights include the smoky, jazzy female vocal of “Sparks”, and the trippy rhythms of “So Easy” and “Epie”. Aside from the Alan Parsons instrumentals, Melody A.M. also reminds me of Art Of Noise’s adventurous Seduction Of Claude Debussy, an album I’ve grown to appreciate much more since I initially reviewed it.

4 out of 4Melody A.M. is an album that just about anyone could find enjoyable, even if only one or two songs grab them immediately, and Royksopp is just one fortuitous inclusion in the soundtrack of a movie, TV show or commercial away from getting some massive exposure. But you can beat the rush and check them out early – this is some good stuff.

Order this CD

  1. So Easy (4:10)
  2. Epie (6:14)
  3. Sparks (5:27)
  4. In Space (3:33)
  5. Poor Leno (4:00)
  6. Higher Place (4:33)
  7. Royksopp’s Night Out (7:33)
  8. Remind Me (3:41)
  9. She’s So (5:24)
  10. 40 Years Back \ Come (4:45)

Released by: Wall Of Sound
Release date: 2002
Total running time: 49:22