Röyksopp – The Understanding

Damn, how is Röyksopp is so ebulliently happy. Even the somewhat moody opening “Triumphant” still sounds in some way bubbly. I must say that this is in no way a criticism of the band, but it is uncanny that one band could sound so zealous. Not only that, but an electronic band from Norway; “The land of the ice and snow,” if I remember my Led Zeppelin geography correctly. But good lord don’t I sound like a sheltered American. Perhaps I should lay aside country-of-origin for the time being and turn to the band, and more specifically The Understanding. But first, the inevitable background recap.

Melody A.M. was quite well received by both the popular circles and hipster enclaves. In other words, people who enjoyed it included both people who like Air and those who like Dirty Vegas. It was not a ground-breaking album, it didn’t shed new light on the world of electronica, but it was never-the-less very good. In this day and age, it is quite hard for me to find an upbeat electronica album that is very good, so that is saying an enormous amount for the band on my part. I can be quite picky, especially in the realm of electronic music. The Understanding is different in a way that I can’t precisely put my finger on. It, like the band’s debut, flits between genres too frequently to be properly classified, but seems to handle them all with ease.

They handle a bevy of styles with equal aplomb, the trance-build of “Triumphant,” the vocal pop of “Only This Moment,” and the minimalistic house of “Sombre Detune” are all wonderful songs in their own right. And by this point the album still isn’t even half over. It is almost a musical ADD that, fortunately for the band, is a benefit to them rather than a hindrance. The vocal approach is quite heavy on this album, though. Much more than their previous album. According to Svein Berge, it was a conscious decision. I have to admire a band that chooses to expand their sound rather than sticking with a safe and successful formula. Since the singing is done by guest vocalists, there is variation from track to track, which fits well with the album’s flow, since the vocals of Karin Dreijer, which mesh well with the melancholy tones of “A Beautiful Day Without You,” wouldn’t work quite as well with the smooth pop of “49 Percent.”

Really, The Understanding should be everything one expected from Röyksopp: a consistently good pastiche of electronic music, with notable development as of the band as artists – in this case, branching out as would-be singer/songwriters. But, despite having put together an album of accomplished and beautiful electronic pop, with Röyksopp it is hard to heap praise on the band or their music. The main problem being that the music doesn’t inspire that sort of writing. It isn’t exciting, it isn’t shocking, and it’s just … pleasant. It is Burt Bacharach in electronic form. And I mean that as the most sincere compliment, honestly.