Röyksopp: Profound Mysteries II Album Review

Whether you love, hate, or feel profoundly indifferent to the plundering sound of Röyksopp’s seventh studio album, Deep Mysteries II, you certainly can’t say they didn’t warn us. In the run-up to the album’s release, the Norwegian duo’s Svein Berge fessed up to the “blatant” and “heavy references” on the second installment of the Deep Mysteries series, which he said are a tribute to key influences, like Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Italo disco, and 1990s UK rave. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this direction. We might call it the Beyoncé rule: most people will accept artists making music that borrows heavily from their forefathers, as long as they acknowledge the debt and produce something that adds to the canon. Röyksopp fly over this first hurdle on Deep Mysteries IIbut they lack on the second.

However open Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland might be about their inspirations, it is hard to imagine a circumstance in which a sentient listener would choose the clunky rhyme schemes and silver-polished rave pop of “Unity” over Meat Beat Manifesto’s evergreen hardcore belter “Radio Babylon ,” which it references in the drums and clipped vocal sample. It’s also unlikely that they’d prefer the awkwardly rehashed low-cal techno of “Control” over Adamski and Seal’s house classic “Killer,” whose stately keyboard tones it commandeers. The heroically mopey melody of “Sorry,” featuring the ANOHNI-lite croon of Jamie Irrepressible, suggests Depeche Mode, but with all the deviant sex removed by deed poll.

Disappointing as this is, these three songs resemble 1970s Stevie Wonder in their invention and style compared to the trio of chill-out clichés that close Deep Mysteries II. “Remembering the Departed” bets the farm on the kind of forlorn, piano-scale banalities that wan boys used to play at parties in the days before Tinder. “Tell Him,” which features one of two appearances by Norwegian vocalist Susanne Sundfør, is a string-led plod, containing lyrics that write emotional checks the music can’t cash. “Some Resolve” is a vast sentimental soufflé; it flops when it comes out of the oven, the electro-prog layering doing little to disguise a boring chord sequence.

This is a shame, because at their best, Röyksopp were never about empty troops. Their debut album, Melody AM, transcended well-worn, chilled-out electronica with fantastically bendy melodic textures and unusual vocal guests, including Norwegian softie Erlend Øye. Then their collaborative mini album with Robyn, 2014’s Do It Again, revealed the duo as inventive and empathetic producers of electronic pop, flexing their trademark synth melodies just enough to allow the Swedish pop star’s vocals to shine. The best moments on Deep Mysteries II come when Röyksopp run truer to themselves than to their influences. The crunchy trip-hop drums and melodic curlicues of opener “Demiclad Baboons” sound like a nod to “Eple,” their sparkling second single, whose apple-fresh sound garnered 1,001 TV appearances and ad placements in the early 2000s. “Oh, Lover” has the opulent Nordic melancholy of Röyksopp’s best pop collaborations, combining dilatory synth, chugging disco groove, and Susanne Sundfør’s wind-swept vocals; the result is like weeping away your heartbreak in a chic Norwegian aparthotel.

Deep Mysteries is designed as a particularly grand project. The first installment arrived in April of this year, and all 20 tracks across the two releases have corresponding video and digital visualizers, part of Deep Mysteries’ “expanded creative universe.” You can understand why Röyksopp wanted to make such a grandstanding move after declaring themselves done with album releases back in 2014. But in shooting for Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion I and IIthey may have ended up with Chinese Democracy: an over-long, repetitive record whose derivative—and only occasionally inspired—second volume makes a compelling case for less is more.

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