Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Junior - Royksopp (Spring 2009)


Astralwerks Records.

SCQ Rating: 77%

Downtempo is pretty dead. Not floating down the river quite yet but certainly beached. And the record responsible for last breathing life into that stagnant subgenre came courtesy of the band who indeed sealed its dusty coffin… that’s right, Royksopp. Their debut Music AM kept commercial electronica proud in the face of its sad, late 90s defeat, melding thick breakbeats with a rainbow’s capacity of influences: trance, triphop sampling, space-rock, house and late-night jazz. As the sole descendents of progressive downtempo, Royksopp returned three years later with The Understanding, a revved up pop-powerhouse that better suited the dancefloor than your average living room.

So it’s strange that Junior, despite being a close successor to the dance-pop sophomore effort, kicks things off with a track so loaded with spacey synths and tweaked bleeps you’d swear it was 2002 all over again. Such is the addictive power of first single ‘Happy Up Here’ (a more popcentric, economic take of ‘Eple’) or ‘You Don’t Have a Clue’ (think of a more melodic ‘Poor Leno’); two tracks that’ll fool you into believing Junior is reclaiming its laid-back beats. Don’t let those telltale moments sway you, as Royksopp’s third is first and foremost a pop record; one so engrossing, in fact, you’re likely to lose yourself and at times forget just how technically astounding their compositions are. One needn’t look further than ‘The Girl and the Robot’, undoubtedly among this year’s top tracks, that matches Robyn’s affecting vocal performance to a boundless trance rhythm. While that single-to-be envisions the future of dance, ‘This Must Be It’ has a retro air about it, utilizing disco cadences beneath Karin Dreijer’s familiar delivery. As with The Understanding, this third release finds comfort in collaboration and while every vocalist on rent is female (encompassing seven of eleven tracks), I find Junior’s femininity a tad polarizing… not because such vocal talents get tiring (save Dreijer’s irritating ‘Tricky, Tricky’) but because Royksopp’s knack for instrumentals remains unrivaled in this genre. The heavy thud and fluttering arpeggios of ‘Silver Cruiser’ make for a well-earned intermission, as does the orchestrated glory of ‘Royksopp Forever’ (a sentiment many listeners are currently nodding along to).

Had the Chemical Brothers the vision to adapt themselves into the dance scene of 2009, they would’ve crafted Junior. This Norwegian duo fit oversized pop narratives into beat patterns with the same scope and talent of the Chem Bros, but Royksopp’s brand of big-beat carries a fourth dimension… one that’s delicate yet bold, aggressive but androgynous. They truly carry the torch with Junior, picking la crème of all collaborators and crafting songs for both ends of the Saturday night crowd; those in the club, and those in their headphones.

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