For more than two decades, Norwegian electronic duo Röyksopp have left their mark on svelte electro-pop and sprawling atmospheric soundscapes, with recognizable, clean production guaranteed along the way. After five albums, Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland grew tired of the routine and heralded the 2014s The inevitable end as a “farewell to the traditional album format”. If the send-off seemed vague, that was the point; the duo haven’t really retired, choosing instead to dig into their archives for their Lost tapes series and turn to cinematographic and theatrical collaborations. In the meantime, however, Röyksopp has created a whole new album’s worth of material. “Let’s just say we have to go back on a promise we made in the past,” they conceded in a message to fans last January.
The result deep mysteries is both an album and a multimedia project, comprising a cryptic website and 10 videos that attempt to develop the larger theme of the album, which struggles with the unknowability of the universe. Created in collaboration with the film production company Bacon, all the clips (called “artifacts”) are surreal and oblique; essential to the project as they are supposed to be, they are hardly necessary. The actual songs range from sleepy piano interludes to moody, charged electro pop. The back and forth doesn’t always work out, but Röyksopp still lands on some of their most energizing grounders to date.
They recruited an inspired roster of guest artists, benefiting from Alison Goldfrapp’s hypnotic soprano and Susanne Sundfør’s folksy croon. The light voices of the singers give the project a welcome unifying thread, as if each one intervened gently to reinforce the electronics of the duo. On the brooding “Impossible,” Goldfrapp whispers about rolling thunder and a world on fire over a gummy synth reminiscent of Daft Punk; the song is a solid reminder that Goldfrapp remains a quietly powerful force that can control a dance song with little more than a breathless sigh. The seven-minute climax “This Time…This Place” takes a more challenging approach, opening with frantic techno before returning to a solid, clean beat for vocalist Beki Mari. By the time it hits the six-minute mark, the song turns into a whirlwind of Mari’s vocals, dreamy synth lines and a dragging drum beat, evoking the wispy, after-hours feeling of watching the sun rise. on the dance floor after a party.
When musicians decompress with midtempo instrumental tracks, the buzz and high octane effect of other songs dissipates. “(Nothing But) Ashes” and “There, Beyond the Trees” are driven by quiet piano and synth melodies that are detached rather than affecting. On “The Ladder,” Röyksopp fares a bit better, unwinding a loose, space-age synth line over crackling drums to create a light-hearted walk through the kind of soft synth pop the duo all but mastered at this stage.
The best songs on deep mysteries operate in those comfort zones, making it more of a return to form than even The inevitable end, but Röyksopp still gets tripped up. While the album’s euphoric, soaring melodies beckon to otherworldly greatness, drifting instrumentals and forgettable abstract lyrics keep them from reaching those heights. But then, trying to capture a subject as weighty as the mysteries of the universe is bound to be an unwieldy pursuit.
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