By Chris Pacifico

In 2002, Royksopp took the underground electronic music scene by storm with their debut effort Melody A.M. - a bona fide cult classic of the first decade of the 21st century that contained four hit singles that spent some time on the charts in Europe. It was like something that came from out of this world with its ethereal textures and bewildering soundscapes. Now the duo of Torbjorn Brundtland and Svein Berge are back with The Understanding - an album that may not be as mind blowing as their previous, but still remains a worthy follow up. The vibe has changed a bit on The Understanding, which is one that takes electronica on a path to resemble the chilling winters in a country that borders the Arctic Circle such as Royksopp’s native Norway. A space heater may be required for a listening session of this disc as Brundtland and Berge lend their crisp vocals to more of the tracks.

The forlorn chamber piano whirlpool of “Triumphant” sends the bass into a spiral pattern, and for some reason, it may also seem like appropriate background music at a really chic Christmas party. However, “Only This Moment” sounds like it could be a more evolved version of some dreamy trance made by workaholic producer BT with verses that make you think such as “Love without pain isn’t really romance.” Some more brisk techno is abound on “Sombre Detune” with its enigmatic palpitations, scattered popping and hissing, and some dainty huffing and puffing that will grab you by the hair of your chinny chin chin (if you happen to have a goatee). What can be amazing though is how Royksopp can take a song like “What Else is There” and render it bubbly and serious all at once with the thick accented vocals of Karin Dreiger of Swedish pop heroes Honey is Cool.

Of course Royksopp get a little bit more blithe on some of their songs but still manage to hold on to their trademark breezy edge. The more vogue pulse of the Euro-danceable “49 Percent” contains some lyrical mannerisms that are delivered with some icy Scandinavian soul and a hint of ambient-disco garnish. The more dance floor-friendly “Follow My Ruin” will make the older heads rummage through their attic to find those platform shoes with the goldfish in them. The break-beats are fat and juicy nonetheless on “Circuit Breaker” with the duo crooning with their indoor voices as the eight minute “Alpha Male” runs low on gas for the first half of the track before flowing into a scene back in the days when illegal warehouse raves still existed and dancing with glowsticks wasn’t a total cliché. Royksopp creates other moods as well such as that of drunken, quiet, lonely, rainy, late night with the tingling synth squelches on “Someone Like Me” that sound like the duo brought in a pendulum from a grandfather clock in the studio to provide the tempo.

As previously mentioned, Royksopp has managed to avoid the sophomore slump on The Understanding. Those familiar with Melody A.M. may have to listen to it a couple of times for it to really sink in, but it really does stay with you long after a listen. The Understanding is an album that glimmers like an aurora borealis on a frigid night in the middle of nowhere.

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[Published on: 8/23/05]

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