Röyksopp: Melody A.M.

Ari Levenfeld

Aside from the obvious comparisons to Air, or any other European down-tempo impresario, they wear their affection for pure pop sound producing on their parkas.


Melody A.M.

Label: Astralwerks
US Release Date: 2002-10-15
UK Release Date: 2002-08-12

Melody A.M., the debut CD from Norwegian electronica duo Röyksopp has a variety of uses. As the title implies, this is not a bad choice to pop into the stereo first thing in the morning. Listen to this while you're waking up, brushing your teeth, or on your way to work. It won't yell at you or make any quick, unsettling movements. It's also a fitting choice as the last disc you listen to in the morning -- the sort of morning that comes after an intentionally sleepless night. It's medicinal qualities make it an excellent choice to turn on as you wind down and fall asleep, just as the sun is coming up. Given Röyksopp's origins in the far Northern latitudes of Norway, perhaps this isn't surprising. In a land where summer days are absurdly long, and winter nights are frighteningly dark, it helps to have some sort of musical chronological indicator to help plow through bouts of seasonal affected disorder.

Röyksopp is made up of two electronic musical tailors, Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge, who grew up together in Tromsø, Norway. They shared a childhood friendship, an admitted fascination with Burt Bacharach and an affinity for Norwegian easy listening music (whatever that is). What they've created is a fantastic chill-out album that manages to be warm and cozy, not to mention unique. There's no doubt that many of the tracks on Melody A.M. are destined to appear on all of this year's finest down-temp electronica compilations. That's terrific news for Röyksopp, as it inevitably generates a fresh round of interest in their lush album in the months to come.

Aside from the obvious comparisons to Air, or any other European down-tempo impresario, they wear their affection for pure pop sound producing on their parkas. In fact, "So Easy" the first track on Melody A.M. borrows unabashedly from Bobby Vinton's "Blue on Blue". But even if you couldn't hear the distorted notes, you'd know that it did.

It's almost as if Brundtland and Berge are trying to build an electronic version of the Brill Building, which fell out of favor when the British Invasion overtook American pop charts in the mid-'60s. Those invaders stormed our shores armed with what was then the dregs of American music -- turn of the century blues that no one in the U.S. of A. was listening to. Now the Norwegians are invading, this time with a truckload of sweet and sour pop tunes that fell out of favor two generations ago. Their tunes are built on seemingly simple rhythms and melodic hooks. But listen closely and you'll hear a continuously evolving composition that demands your attention until the end of the song.

The aforementioned title track, "So Easy", exemplifies this idea. It begins with the synthetic sound you might find in the introductory screen to a video game. Then marching rhythm kicks in, reminiscent of military parade high-stepping. I may have spent too much time living in Northern California, but the transitions in the tune sound like a bong being cleared. Not that you need to be medicated to appreciate the richness here.

"Eple", which follows, begins with a series of sweet technological beeps that sound like R2-D2 remixed. The song never quite falls into tune, which is why it's hard to stop listening to it. While "In Space" could be taken from a movie soundtrack. It's the type of song that's good for laying around and daydreaming about doing ordinary tasks in slow motion.

Melody A.M. isn't all sweet electronic nothings blown in your ear. "Poor Leno" and "Remind Me" make use of Erlend Øye's cabaret vocals layered over straightforward Casio loops. Meanwhile Anneli Marian Drecker lends her voice, strained through a vocoder, to "Sparks", a slow R&B Sunday drive of a tune.

"Röyksopp's Night Out" is dramatic and kitschy at the same time, with an extra helping of funky seventies guitar, smudged out like a charcoal drawing. Where "She's So" includes a film noir saxophone that will have you wondering when the Humphrey Bogart voiceover begins.

Röyksopp is masterful at generating good, mood music. You can leave it on in the background for a thousand years while you go about your business and live your life. But Meldoy A.M. is also better than that. There are powerful ideas here that take some time for the group to develop. Give it some time, and the album will grow on you. You may even find yourself listening to it when you have absolutely nothing else to do.

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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