Music

Röyksopp: The Understanding

Stephen Stirling

The Understanding definitely shows the growth of a young group and the innovation that Röyksopp have been experimenting with since their 2004 debut, but they haven't yet reached the height of their potential.


Röyksopp

The Understanding

Label: Astralwerks
US Release Date: 2005-07-04
UK Release Date: 2005-07-12
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

The pursuit of the artist is a valiant one. The arduous task of taking the road less traveled, the obstacle-laden path towards creating something of transcendent beauty that the world has never seen or felt is a noble endeavor. The process an artist goes through, of constantly trying to reinvent himself, to evolve to innovate and refrain from becoming creatively placid is one that can be respected by the world over.

That's not to say it's always a success.

Every journey has its pitfalls, every race its losers. The vast majority sputter to a halt. Others are led astray only to find dead ends. Some fall just short of the finish line.

Torbjorn Brundtland and Svein Berge, the Norwegian duo that make up Röyksopp, are artists. When their debut Melody A.M. splashed onto the scene in 2004 there was no denying that they had the passion to take on this pursuit. Their perfectionist style of production, tight beats, and well-crafted melodies immediately sent them hovering above the vast majority of the electronica world.

The kind of exposure and acclaim they netted from their debut release most likely put an understandable (no pun intended) amount of pressure on the Scandinavian group to achieve greater heights with their recently released sophomore album The Understanding. Both Brundtland and Berge have made it clear, most recently in a PopMatters interview, that this kind of pressure doesn't affect or deter them from making the music they want to and their undaunted attitude and execution of their craft is admirable. Still, not all reinventions are effective and Röyksopp's The Understanding is evidence of that.

The most notable difference in Röyksopp's second album is their venture into songwriting. Melody A.M contained several applaudable aspects, but creative lyrics was not one of them. The Understanding is no different, aside from the fact that it actually does contain an abundance of lyrics.

While tracks like "49 Percent", "Only This Moment", and "Beautiful Day Without You" don't display the infantile lyrics so often found in electronica (XXXX anyone?), they do display inexperience. The simple rhyme schemes and lyrical structure that litter The Understanding are reminiscent of an established poet's initial work, work they will later despise and denounce the existence of.

This lyrical experiment casts a shadow over an otherwise excellent album. Röyksopp are still among the elite as far as electronic production goes. Their percussion is sharp, and biting as ever and the accompanying melodies exude vibrant emotional imagery that travels from solace to sorrow to exuberant joy over the course of the album.

"Triumph" opens the album as an aptly-titled operatic overture that bites from Beethoven, reengineering the melody of the composer's famous "Moonlight Sonata". A simple, somber piano melody is quickly disrupted by crashing simples, strings, and colorful synthesizers that build to a fever-pitch in what is an exemplary opening track.

"Sombre Detune" also stands out on the album. Heavily compressed drums support a dark melody, complimented by airy psychedelic synths. The bass drum pulses over a constant, static-laden snare creating a partnership that ensures "Sombre Detune"'s place on DJ set lists worldwide.

To be fair though, most of the album could unabashedly make its way onto dance floors without any caveat. Even though on the array of emotion on The Understanding is more expansive than on their debut, its hard not to move to the consistent and driving rhythms of the record.

Karin Dreijer, who provides vocals on "What Else is There", offers the most dynamic lyrical presentation on the album. Her unique voice is really given a chance to stand out on the track, a quality that is seldom seen throughout the rest of the album's lyrical endeavors. It's all too often that electronic instrumentalists over-exaggerate the accompaniment around their vocalists. When they are given the chance to really take the spotlight, as Dreijer is here, it can be a beautiful and much more fulfilling listening experience. Her clearly Scandinavian voice is accompanied by a driving beat sprinkled with acoustic guitar and flowing strings.

The Understanding definitely shows the growth of a young group and the innovation that Röyksopp have been experimenting with since their 2004 debut, but they haven't yet reached the height of their potential. Not every swing is a hit, and while Röyksopp may have taken a side-step in terms of their development they certainly haven't struck out.

6

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image