elody A.M. made it plainly clear just who Röyksopp’s primary influences were—down-tempo kings Air and IDM hallmarks Boards of Canada—and oftentimes such inspirational transparency ends in music-making disaster. But Röyksopp leaders Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge are talented enough that Melody A.M. was rightly hailed as a successful, potential-showcasing debut as opposed to another case of been-there-done-that.
Three years later, Röyksopp reemerges with The Understanding, flaunting new heroes: Daft Punk. The idolization doesn’t begin and end with the lengthy wait between releases; much of the album bears more than a passing resemblance to the second half of Discovery. This isn’t necessarily Röyksopp’s fault, as Daft Punk has been known to cast a foreboding shadow over the world of vocoderized electro-pop. No matter. Röyksopp has again managed to carve themselves a niche in what may have originally seemed like overcrowded subgenres.
It appears as though little has changed on the first track, “Triumphant,” which develops slowly and peacefully. But what follows are two blueprints for blissful Euro cheese. Lead single “Only This Moment” could soundtrack the most captivating deodorant commercial of all time and “49 Percent” contains a thesis statement that’s so brilliant, it might as well be transcribed in its entirety right here. “49 percent is one percent short of half, and less than half ain’t really much of nothing.”
The rest of The Understanding isn’t quite as worldview-altering, but it’s still a fun listen. Occasionally Röyksopp utilize darker atmospherics on songs such as “Boys” and “What Else Is There?” which serve to vary the album’s emotional sentiment, yet never burst the feel-good balloon. For every haunting moment on the album, there’s always an uplifting dance track waiting just around the corner. “Follow My Ruin” and “Circuit Breaker” are two of The Understanding’s best songs, containing fast-paced basslines which carry each through their respective transitions.
Ultimately, Röyksopp’s incorporation of the aforementioned Daft Punk-esque vocals alongside their typically skillful instrumental compositions allows The Understanding to edge past Melody A.M. as the best album of their brief career. But even with that, it merely succeeds in further tantalizing listeners with the prospect that perhaps even greater heights are yet to be scaled—hopefully in less than three years.
Reviewed by: Ross McGowan
Reviewed on: 2005-07-20