Röyksopp introduce its third album, Junior, with a chuckle before ratcheting forward into its first single and 2009’s good-times anthem, “Happy Up Here”. The group’s website puts it in similar language, “Every once in a while we surface to share our music and shed some light in an otherwise bleak reality.” It’s true: This bleak reality can’t be found on Junior, which is both a recapitulation and a narrowing of a sentiment the group had previously expounded upon. The Norwegian duo seems determined to be optimistic and extroverted throughout, and in doing this, the album might end up being its best yet.
Although one can never quite be sure what to believe when Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland spout off, apparently Junior is a one half of a one-two punch with Senior, which will be released later this year. If what they’ve said in interviews about this holds true, the album we have now classifies as upbeat/demonstrative/schizophrenic to Senior’s peaceful/quiet/introverted.
Talking about its music has always been Röyksopp’s thing, making explicit the timeline of its influences and generally deepening the impact of what you might have thought was simple top-40 dance pop. They describe “This Must Be It” as how “Angelo Badalamenti would sound if he got lost in a Norwegian forest but were rescued by Giorgio Moroder.” The song’s sort of like that, one might suppose, though what you really need to know is it’s one of two tracks to feature the Knife/Fever Ray’s Karin Dreijer, and it’s deep and enveloping. It has the big-room sound of “We Share Our Mother’s Health”, even if it doesn’t boast the catchiness of the previous Dreijer-Röyksopp collaboration, “What Else is There?” Dreijer’s other, “Tricky Tricky”, is coke paranoia turned into buzzing electro-house, all children’s jokes, running up walls and uninterpretable words. While we’re on vocalists, the record showcases a hefty list of Scandinavian indie princesses, in addition to Dreijer: Lykke Li, Robyn and Anneli Drecker.
The whole album builds off these disco touchpoints, which you barely realize get expertly woven through the music. “Röyksopp Forever”, which this critic initially dismissed as chillout-compilation filler, becomes a completely captivating portrayal of vividly orchestrated life. Like Studio, Röyksopp use the tools of Balearic house but never dip into cliché. Because of this, its music sounds familiar, and no real change happens to the MOA of Melody A.M. or The Understanding. But as on both those albums, ’90s house done well gives an acute pleasure. Röyksopp, well aware of the pop sensibilities of its music, builds in layers of detail beneath their maximal vocal lines that are easy to miss but also, soon, easy to treasure. The nostalgic farewell of “It’s What I Want” should remind us why we used to lose shit to this band — all widescreen, perfectly paced, bright light under thunderclouds, that cinematic dance-music thing. It just goes to show, three years of relative silence doesn’t change a thing.
Once in a while, Junior’s familiar synths and drum machines feel flat (“Silver Cruise”, quietly overtaken before it was written by Radiohead, stands out). It depends, as usual, how you have come to Röyksopp. If obliquely, in the middle of some other task or overheard on the radio or in a bar when you’re concentrating on a conversation with someone else, you’d be forgiven for shuffling this away with the group’s other material, as happy times dance-pop with the occasional droll instrumental. But listen closer. Sit down a few times with the music and let it percolate; there’s more to Junior than that first chuckle.