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.