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Review: Royksopp – The Understanding

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Royksopp - The UnderstandingGrade: A- |
Genre: Electronic Chill
Summary: The Understanding is a very impressive effort that leaves you hesistant to leave this plush cosmic universe Royksopp has created.

It has been three years since Royksopp quietly shifted through the silence, presenting the beautiful atmospheric effort Melody A.M. Now the Norweigan duo of Torbjorn Brundtland and Svein Berge venture into those uncertain waters of the sophomore electronic chill effort, which can prove a formidable task. Just ask the French boys of Air. The Understanding shows they are brimming for the challenge, snapping out of the box with enigmatic dance beats, Zip-loc bags of captured quiet and catchy pop melodies that beg to have their energies channeled through radio. Prepare yourselves because I think Royksopp is ready to break themselves all over your world.

Their debut effort Melody A.M. was a salient work that blended ambient, electronica and dance to create a fusion of design through sound. It was a heady piece that knew no boundaries, creating compelling atmospherics that were quaint and inviting. On first glance, The Understanding appears to be a departure from Melody as they seek out a sound that is more refined. Rhythms are smoother, beats are slicker and the production values are ratcheted up. They have fashioned their own rich musical cosmos.

“49 Percent” sounds like a raving anthem that should be seeping through the speakers at Queer as Folk’s Babylon. It has great energy, and a pulsing rhythm offset by a soft vocal presence. “Circuit Breaker” continues this tradition by slamming down a double layer of racing beats that aimlessly careen ahead, slicing through anything in their path. Kate Havnevik lends her vocal talents to nicely accentuate this piece. The Understanding embraces the vocal element of their music much more than Melody A.M. was comfortable with.

“Alpha Male” begins like it should be apart of one of those Cool Moods collections, housed snugly between Enya and Enigma. It slowly builds its ambient presence until beats break loose, forming a soundtrack-esque feel of a chase scene from Heat. “Dead to the World” is just rich ambient space similar to Brian Eno’s “Deep Blue Day” off the Trainspotting soundtrack. The short transitional piece “Tristesse Globale” sounds like gloomy underwater pianos.

They make a bit of a retreat to form more pop flavored tunes complimented by their own slice of electronica. “A Beautiful Day Without You” slides in as the brightest light steering the album. It is a rich melody, airy and fluid. The chorus sings “living under guard/wind is on my neck/sun is on my face/a beautiful day without you.” The rhythms create the feeling of driving up the coast on a sunny day, top down trying to let the pain of a broken relationship be swept away in the whipping wind. “Only This Moment” tries the same formula, yet doesn’t feel as weightless and free. “Someone Like Me” fares much better, supported on an enticing array of trance beats that prove an irresistible force.

The Understanding takes on the dreaded sophomore album with great skill and determination, ultimately surpassing their highly impressive debut. They’ve honed their unique sound to further separate their slick melodies from groups like Air and Thievery Corporation. They’ve also incorporated some new features to keep the mix alluring. It is a very impressive effort that leaves you hesistant to leave this plush cosmic universe Royksopp has created. Though as good as The Understanding is, Royksopp is still a group in the process of evolution. After breathing in each of their works, you sense that this is simply the beginning of a journey that doesn’t seem to have an ending. It is one not traveled on the ground, but suspended in an air of sound, lush and delicious. I can’t wait until they return to send us on the next leg of the odyssey.

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About Mark Runyon

  • Great review. I loved this album as well and I think it’s one of the best albums I’ve listened to this year. I hope it isn’t overlooked come Grammy time…at least not in its genre category, anyway.

  • Thanks. Hopefully now that this album has a US release date (September 7th), it can build up some good press to allow them to gain a wider audience like they have already done on the other side of the pond.

  • Good stuff. Review more house/dance music.

    That is all.

  • Mark, this album was released in the US back in July I believe. By the way, I absolutely love “What Else Is There”.

  • You’re right. I was thinking about another album on import I recently wrote up. Too much music to keep up with, but I guess there are worse problems to have.