A little over a year-and-a-half after the release of their album Junior, electronic music duo Röyksopp have returned with its companion Senior. Although recorded around the same time as their previous release, it’s a radical departure in multiple ways. While Junior relied heavily on guest vocalists like Robyn and Karin Dreijer-Andersson, Senior consists of nine instrumental tracks. Where their last album was club-friendly, this one is more mellow and more freeform in nature. The result is an excellent work that is at times beautiful, haunting, and sad.
“…and The Forest Began To Sing” opens the album and it sets the mood well. There are some musical elements that signal early morning happiness but they are tempered by the darker musical elements. It has the feel of a morning where the mist that still hangs in the air mutes the brightness of the incoming sunshine.
This track is followed by “Tricky Two,” the only song that connects Senior to Junior. This fresh take on “Tricky Tricky” isn’t as concerned with making you move but it’s still a fast-paced track. Instead of pounding you with its rhythms, it lets them float around. Even though “Tricky Two” is the longest track on Senior (and nearly two minutes longer than “Tricky Tricky”), it never feels tired or boring.
“The Alcoholic” comes next and it’s one of the highlights of the album. The mellow, beautiful song takes its relatively simple rhythms to great heights. Things start with a basic drum pattern and some heavy bass. Gradually, layers of synths help flesh out the sound. Then about two minutes in, acoustic guitars appear and bring with them some emotion. By the end, the track has a calming, mesmerizing effect.
After the equally mellow (but much sadder) “Senior Living” comes “The Drug.” It is a track that stubbornly refuses to become a real club track. The techno-esque synths and the drums are there but things don’t take off the way you expect them to. It captures the feeling of someone who is standing alone on the outskirts of a dancefloor…someone who hears the music but doesn’t feel connected to it. “The Drug” is a fascinating song and one that is dying to be remixed.
“Forsaken Cowboy” has a unusual feel to it that’s different from the other tracks. If shifts back and forth between two different melodies. Fragments of acoustic guitar pop in and out of the track. Ethereal vocalizations hover in the background. At times, we’re even treated to what could possibly be the sound of a tuba. It’s a pleasant surprise that these all these disparate elements work together somehow.
If Röyksopp ever scored a horror film, it would probably sound like “The Fear.” The early parts of the song do a good job of creating a foreboding atmosphere. Once the bass kicks in, you also get a nice undercurrent of funk. Things get really interesting in the second half of the song as the pace picks up and it becomes more intense. The end of the track features the only spoken words on the entire album, an electronically distorted voice thanking someone for their call.
After the mellow comedown of “Coming Home” is “A Long, Long Way,” the album’s final track. It’s an airy, ambient track that seems like a soundtrack to the cosmos. It is the only song on the album with no bass whatsoever which makes it all the more haunting. The spacy sounds glide the album to its conclusion.
One of the best things about Senior is how it truly becomes more fulfilling with each listen. It is best enjoyed as a whole from start to finish as each track complements each other perfectly. Both the song titles and the songs themselves hint that there may be a narrative involved. Forest sounds can be heard throughout the album from the cracks and pops of a campfire to light rain. “The Alcoholic” begins with the sound of a can opening. The trippy sounds of “Forsaken Cowboy” come right after “The Drug.” in the context of a potential narrative, the ambient sounds of “A Long, Long Way” could represent the act of dying. Without lyrics, everything on Senior is up for interpretation.
Senior continues Röyksopp’s streak of delivering great music that both defies and lives up to expectations. It is a true companion album in the way that it offers a stark contrast to Junior instead of a continuation. Because of its instrumental nature (and its overall mellowness), it may be tempting to use this album as background noise. It might be pretty good in this capacity but you would be depriving yourself of a great aural experience. Junior is the album you blast from your speakers. Senior is the album your headphones were made for.