Growing Up, Growing Out
The motherly maxim of “things happen for a reason” may have saved Norwegian electro duo Royksopp a little bit of grief. Senior, their fourth album, was supposed to come out a few months after their March 2009 release Junior—a quieter counterpart to Junior‘s damn-near seismic bounce and intensity. Instead, record label snafus gave Junior a year-and-a-half to breathe and then fade. While these albums may have been conceived as creative bookends, as opposite points of a sonic spectrum, the benefit of time makes Senior feel less like stark contrast and more like organic growth.
This back half of this musical one-two punch makes the quirky gurgling of Royksopp’s early classics like “Eple” and the embarrassing mess of The Understanding seem impossibly far away. With their career and relevance reaffirmed on Junior, Senior exists to show off unexpected versatility, and it really only takes the album’s first two proper songs to do this. “Tricky Two” is an instrumental extension of Junior‘s “Tricky Tricky,” managing to be the most upbeat song on the album yet replacing some of the original’s buzzing, clattering synths in order to subdue it.
Then “The Alcoholic” sets the tone for the rest of Senior, Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland matching titles to beeps and loops that tell sonic stories. You can almost imagine the music video or the short film footage behind their processed guitar and chirping birds: frat brothers holding each other up as they stumble home, or maybe a sad ex-banker on a midday bender. From the strings introducing and then permeating the melancholy “Senior Living,” through the guitar-laced skiffle of “Forsaken Cowboy,” to the nighttime train-ride hypnosis of “Coming Home,” instead of making declarative statements Royksopp here use atmospheric production to set scenes.
Full of loping percussion and soft tones, enamored of the choral aaaah and the airy wash, this is Royksopp taking one element found on their prior albums and fashioning it into a full-on strength. Bookend, experiment, diversion, companion—Senior is still a success, no matter what label you apply to it and no matter how surprised you are by it.