Editor's note: We are circling back to some of the great albums of 2009 that we have not yet reviewed, if you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments
If I had my way, this review would simple. In a word: Perfection. Sadly, I’m sure the editor would have something snippy to say about that (fascist!), so allow me to flesh this one out.
The boys of Röyksopp have been hard at work over the past three years conjuring up their third major album, Junior. Like a Nordic creation of Frankenstein proportions (I’ll allow time to envision the monster as a blonde), the album operates as a complex series of bits and pieces mixed together, pasting together the moody beats of Melody AM with the tenderest bits of pop-mindedness from The Understanding.
To do so, the duo have enlisted a superstar cast of Swedish chanteuses, including Lykke Li, Robyn, and Karin Dreijer (as well as fellow Norde Anneli Drecker)—a line-up indie-licious enough to make the pants of the Pitchfork crew grow even tighter at the waist.
With a burst of giggles, Röyksopp bounces into Junior with the mindless glee-fest that is their first single, “Happy Up Here.” Ironically, it’s also the album’s weakest moment—not quite an instrumental, not yet a full fledged song. Sure, it’s got all the makings of a Röyksopp track (looped beats and breathy lyrics), but it’s mainly a teaser for things to come.
That’s probably why “The Girl And The Robot” follows shortly thereafter. Undoubtedly one of the coolest songs Robyn has recorded in recent time (though let’s face it, she hasn’t truly recorded anything new in the past five years), the song is a stomping, stuttering 21st century upgrade of a classic torch song: “Fell asleep again in front of MTV / God, I’m down at the bottom / No one’s singing songs for me / I’m in love with a robot.” Then again, has there ever been a song involving robot love that hasn’t proven itself entirely amazing? Doubt it.
After comes “Vision One,” a song I’m still holding responsible for no less than three slipped discs in my neck. Why? “Vision One” happens to be a cover of a track the group first remixed in 2005 sung by a ridiculously under-appreciated J-Pop artist named Eri Nobuchika. Hearing those opening notes re-imagined through bright piano melody and some lo-fi electronica for the very time, my head whipped forward faster than I could shriek “Oh my God, it’s ‘SING A SONG.’” As a result, I’m still healing.
“Let evil ways caress our smile, the cities are dying / As we watch it fall into a modern state, a modern time,” Anneli Drecker goes on to declare as the world around her plummets into the depths of misery. Looking for a distraction from the crumbling economy? You’re probably listening to the wrong song.
In fact, as delightfully “pop” as Röyksopp may claim this album may be, it’s sure depressing—if we’re not listening to Lykke Li sighing away memories of a lost love with “Miss It So Much,” we’ve got the boys themselves throwing their hands up in a cry of resignation in the final moment of the album, “It’s What I Want”: “It’s what I want that’s easy / It’s getting it that’s complicated.”
Still, everything’s not so dire. And by “not so dire,” I mean “vaguely homicidal.” Case in point: The album’s shining moment; the Anneli Drecker led “You Don’t Have A Clue.”
“We’re meant to be one, I know we are,” Drecker croons along a lush set of stringed electronica and choir voices, “If I am the sky, then you are my star.” Sweet, right? Well keep listening, and tell me this doesn’t go from lovey-dovey to stalker-friendly in a matter of minutes: “But you don’t have a clue / This party hasn’t ended yet / Not for me and you.” Yeah, I’d say we’ve got a creeper on our hands.
And so the album trudges on, an eclectic helping of lyrical craft and well-produced beats ready to appeal to listeners of all genus and genre—“Smart Pop,” as I like to refer to it.
Junior is in many respects a musical triumph; an eclectic collection of breathy chanteuses and guttural vocalists all set to the tune of brooding synthesizers and geeky computer blips and bleeps. Presenting their most accessible, instant, and engaging album yet, Röyksopp is one of the very few, truly legitimate artists still standing on the frontlines fighting in the name of all things pop. After all, they’ve already just released a very capable contender for the best of ‘09 honors.
That is, until Junior’s companion piece, Senior, hits shelves later this fall.
Download "Röyksopp Forever" here.
Bradley Stern is a contributor here at Pretty Much Amazing. Be sure to check out his blog MuuMuse for his daily musings on pop music.