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Music Review: Royksopp – Junior

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It's unlikely that any discussion about Royksopp will fail to mention the Norwegian duo's debut release, Melody AM. Released in 2001, along with Zero 7's Simple Things it brought the chill out era to a graceful close; the hypnotic snare loop of it's signature track "Eple" and an equally astute licensing policy would go on to make the album a million selling chart perennial for several years afterward.

Melody AM's commercial success was a remarkable coup for what was ostensibly an underground release, promoted mostly by word of mouth in the days before MySpace, and afterward for Tromso schoolmates, Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge, it seemed that almost anything was possible. What seemed least likely was a hiatus of nearly four years, but due to a combination of schedules, strident perfectionism and Scandanavian laissez-faire, this was the gestation period of sophomore effort The Understanding.

A far less eclectic affair than its predecessor with its roots in the dreamy euro-pop of Air, The Understanding produced only one real shaft of light – the rumblingly, melodic techno of "Circuit Breaker" – and failed to recover Melody AM's irresistible elan.

Nearly four more years had elapsed – although in fairness the pair subsequently released a live album and an episode of the influential Back To Mine DJ mix series in the interim – when earlier this year Brundtland and Berge announced that they were releasing not one, but two full-length albums in 2009. Thus Junior's partner, creatively entitled Senior, will be with us later in the year, whilst we reflect potentially on our luck at this relative profligacy. Speaking in interview, Berge intimated that in fact the two records were more like twins, good and evil, with the later installment "All about atmospheres…more withdrawn and introspective".

I say we reflect potentially then, because whilst Junior reinforces much of what we know about – gorgeous melodies, technical wizardry and a bagfull of dance-cool references – you sense that we may have to wait until its sequel to discover much of anything new. As usual the composers remain largely in the background, leaving the emphasis on the roster of vocal collaborators to provide diversity. And admittedly whilst there's nothing here to eclipse the Paul Simon-esque contributions of Kings of Convenience's Erland Øye to Melody AM's "Poor Leno" or "Remind Me", we're left far from short changed. Swedish pop chanteuse Robyn adds a layer of gloss to the heavyweight club tectonics of "The Girl and the Robot"; whilst fellow Norwegian Lykke Li a playful, child-like dimension to "Miss It So Much".

Elsewhere, fellow Tromso-ite Anneli Drecker sounds almost Wagnerian as she swoops and hollers her way operatically through the otherwise taciturn (and lovely) "You Don't Have A Clue", but the real star turn comes from The Knife's Karin Dreijer Andersson, who in delivering her comparatively androgynous overlay to "Tricky Tricky" elevates the host track into a predatory, mechanical dance-floor nightmare.

All of which leaves the boys themselves to contribute words to closer "It's What I Want" and opener "Happy Up Here", the latter being a spunky, Parliament sampling son of "Eple" which proves that they're probably still not taking themselves too seriously. It's also Junior's both most accessible and essential moment.

So inevitably without all the pieces of the jigsaw, the picture's incomplete. Whether – harnessed together into a double album – the components of Junior/Senior would've reached the aesthetic heights of Melody AM won't be apparent until later this year. And whilst it may have been commercially expedient to avoid having both halves as one, the danger is that the sum may not exceed the parts.

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