opinion by PETER TABAKIS < @ptabakis >
Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland first discovered their Swedish-fembot Martha Wash while recording their third album. The Norwegian duo, better known to us as Röyksopp, invited Robyn Carlsson to sing on “The Girl and the Robot,” a towering cut from 2009’s Junior. She instantly proved an ideal partner, a front-woman to further broaden their sonic and expressive reach. Like Wash, Robyn had a voice and sensibility fit for pop and electronic-dance compositions alike. Unlike Wash–whose powerhouse contributions to several early 90s house blockbusters were shamefully (and literally) hidden from view by record producers – Carlsson has never been an anonymous diva. At the time, she’d already scored a worldwide hit with “Show Me Love” and gained loads of critical adoration for her self-titled fourth album. “The Girl and the Robot” was a creative breakthrough for all involved, and it has since become a staple of Robyn’s live act. But there was little doubt which party benefited most from the partnership. (Hint: it wasn’t Robyn.) This artistic imbalance was underscored a few years later, when Berge and Brundtland provided the icy atmospherics for a dancehall homage called “None of Dem,” one of the few disposable entries from Carlsson’s magnificent three-part Body Talk project.
Röyksopp and Robyn’s latest collaborative work, the aptly titled Do It Again, takes great pride in being neither this nor that. Clocking in at over 35 minutes, it’s too substantial to be classified an EP. And yet, these five tracks don’t deliver the satisfaction of a full-length album (still, Do It Again unfolds as if it were one). Despite arriving weeks ahead of a co-headlining tour bearing the same name, Do It Again isn’t simply a dump of fresh set-list material. Its middle section does, however, contain three songs that match the visceral impact of “The Girl and the Robot,” which are bound to thrill when performed live. All the while, Body Talk – arguably the greatest pop achievement of the current decade – casts a heavy shadow over this so-called “mini-album.” There’s just enough Robyn here to tide us over for a proper follow-up, though her voice is sadly absent during Do It Again’s final ten-minute stretch.
The above should be taken as the mildest of caveats. Do It Again remains impressive, if not extraordinary, from beginning to end. Röyksopp and Robyn for once sound like bandmates, rather than guest stars on one another’s solo work. This sense of harmony is evident from the outset. On Do It Again’s sprawling opener “Monument,” a late-night dispatch transforms into a potent statement of intent. Robyn sings of art as an everlasting document, one that refutes the ephemerality of the club and being in general (“I will let this this monument/ Represent a moment of my life”). Berge and Brundtland sheathe her words in a warm aural hug. Rhythm is applied gently. When a beat enters, it’s with a heartbeat-mimicking bass line, the light tapping of a drum machine, and some rolling toms. Two saxophone voices surface here and there, only to intensify the song’s overwhelming melancholy. “Monument” more than embodies its name: it single-handedly validates Do It Again as an enterprise, before four and the floor ever have a chance to meet.
And meet they do, of course. “Sayit” directly follows “Monument” with a high-BPM gallop. It lacks anything approaching a hook, vocal or otherwise (we do, however, get to hear Robyn instruct a robot on the ways of seduction). The song’s onward rush is both an end in itself and a welcome contrast to the delicate rumination that precedes it. Spirit and body intersect at last on Do It Again’s effervescent title track. Carlsson’s lyrics wink at our seventeen-minute wait for a gigantic melody (“The anticipation/ You know it’s like mmm mmm mmm”). And this one’s a doozy – “Do It Again” has a chorus to rival “The Girl and the Robot” and Body Talk’s many highlights.
“Do It Again” sits smack in the middle of the mini-album, as its centerpiece and apex. As such, the remainder of Do It Again is merely denouement. What a comedown it is, though. “Every Little Thing,” a stunning ballad sped to mid-tempo, depicts Robyn at her most naked. The song concludes with the singer begging a lover to be emotionally present, to match her devotion in kind. Carlsson’s desperate vocal melody, which echoes Röyksopp’s earlier synth phrase, is stacked over multiple tracks as electronic sounds whirl about. It’s a gut-wrenching and intoxicating fifty-nine seconds of music, a new highpoint in Robyn’s already phenomenal career.
Things slacken to a hypnotic, ostinato finish on Do It Again’s closing instrumental “Inside the Idle Hour Club.” The track may not offer much on its own. Nevertheless, it’s an essential component of Röyksopp and Robyn’s striking edifice. Do It Again is foremost a marvel of mood and pacing. The trio doles out their riches with utmost care. Sure, Do It Again comes and goes way too quickly. But isn’t that just high praise disguised as complaint?
tags / Featured, Robyn, Robyn & Röyksopp Do It Again, Röyksopp
author / Peter Tabakis