The funny thing about electronica is that it’s a realm of music built around dancing. Everything is measured in BPMs—either high speed or down tempo. And if you want to survive, even if it’s just in the club, you need a damn hit. Aphex Twin and Squarepusher both allowed themselves a pass with “Come to Daddy” and “My Red Hot Car,” respectively. And don’t forget Future Sound of London’s “We Have Explosive.” Among their beatless atmospheres, it stuck out like a sore thumb. Well, now it’s Röyksopp’s turn, and “Only This Moment” might be their big chance. Coming straight off the heels of the duo’s collaboration with fellow Norwegian popster Annie, it’s a natural progression. The synth pops even sound like the title track to Anniemal.
Many of the other tracks on The Understanding, however, do not have the same instantly catchy club appeal to them. Opener “Triumphant” sounds more like an instrumental from Depeche Mode’s Music for the Masses days. “Sombre Detune” may have the beats and bounciness, but ultimately comes closer to the downtempo tunes of the duo’s debut, Melody A.M.. The Underworld-ish “49 Percent” veers into vaguely house territory, something that ordinarily I wouldn’t have expected, but sounds nice enough.
If it were up to me, the real hit would be track five, “Follow My Ruin.” It’s funkier, more disco-influenced and ultimately hipper than its predecessor, “Only This Moment.” Of course, hip is a relative term, and these songs are all hip in a “Prada, five o’clock shadow and martini” way rather than a “Converse, beard and PBR way.”
“Beautiful Day Without You” layers on more of the ethereal keyboards, as does “What Else Is There?” with more of a Latin influence. “Circuit Breaker” finally breaks into a more high speed mode, with beats popping and flexing all about. By this point, however, the album has already begun to get exhausting. There doesn’t seem to be much coherence, nor is it the Röyksopp I was anticipating listening to.
Change isn’t bad, necessarily. Nor is Röyksopp’s change unwelcome. But it seems like they need to choose a direction before they start veering in so many at once. The Understanding has some hit potential, but it works better as a singles collection than as a cohesive whole. In a way, I see Röyksopp going in the same direction as Air. One impressive debut, a disjointed follow-up, and the next thing you know, they’re off creating something entirely new and beautiful. We’ll be waiting for that third part in the meantime.
Basement Jaxx – Rooty
Annie – Anniemal
Erlend Øye – Unrest
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.