Röyksopp's Profound Mysteries Revealed as Echoes July CD of the Month
by John Diliberto 7/1/2022
Röyksopp is one of those dream pop electronic bands that seem to thrive in Norway. The band has been recording since the early days of the 21st century. Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland were childhood friends growing up in Tromsø, Norway, north of the Arctic Circle. They operate out of Bergen now, but they’ve lost none of the chilled, open-space feel of their birthplace.
They started out with downtempo dance grooves on their lauded 2001 debut, Melody A.M, sampling everything from a cover of “Blue on Blue” to bassist Michael Manring. They have brought in mostly female singers on their albums, including Bel Canto’s Anneli Drecker, Robyn, and Lykke Li, and by the time of Junior in 2009, they were still sampling extensively, incorporating riffs from Parliament and an obscure Canadian band, Skylark. The uptempo Iwas followed by its opposite, Senior, an all-instrumental downtempo-to-ambient release in 2010. With The Inevitable End in 2014, they went back to uptempo dance music and also signaled their demise.
But now, in 2022, they are back with new music, a complex concept, and more glistening sounds, on Profound Mysteries. Profound Mysteries explores the cliché of a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. In our Echoes interview, Svein Berge described it as “We like sort of the contrasting emotions, the paradox, if you want to call it that. They don’t necessarily need to be contrasting either. But the ambiguity then.”
That certainly seems hazy enough. But that’s what Profound Mysteries questions: the meaning of existence, the why of it all. You can hear that on “Impossible,” co-written with singer Alison Goldfrapp. Over a funky and fuzzed-out bass line, she drops her glorious soprano on these lyrics:
You’re the world ablaze
You’re the space between
And closes with:
I can touch the sky
Hear your heart
I can touch the sky
It could be a love song, or a hymn to the divine.
“This Time, This Place” rockets out of “Impossible” with a driving sequencer pattern and synthesized arcs that sound like they’re being distressed by a cheese grater, before giving way to the airy vocals of Beki Mari, who sings this plea:
You close your eyes
We move the sky
We burn, we cry
We live, we die
She closes with:
We are not completely alone
The thing is, we’re distraught.
This theme runs right into “How the Flowers Grow”, with a lo-fi sequencer oscillation underpinning a robotic vocal from English electro-pop artist Pixx. It sounds like a Kraftwerk reference as she intones:
My body is a temple in
A different world, without a care
My future is a master of
Nothing at all, it isn’t there
It sounds like they are trying to understand life and emerge into sentient consciousness, but are stuck, like many of us, in a state of ennui. That may be why Röyksopp spend the second half of the song sending the vocals into loops of increasingly disintegrating distortion.
These downer lyrics are a contrast to the anthemic music which seems ready to storm the gates of ecstasy, but it’s all part of Röyksopp’s PProfound Mysteries. Take the song, “If You Want Me” featuring vocalist Susanne Sundfer. It opens like an ABBA ballad in a Disney movie. But this is a song about the deepest of depression bordering on death. Lines like “Will you bleed me til I die,” are a cry from the abyss. But it’s a beautifully erected abyss dressed in major-key synth patterns and soaring string pads.
There are a lot of chilled moods to go along with the charging bangers. You can hear echoes of Brian Eno’s “Becalmed” from another Green World in “Nothing But) Ashes,” which serves as something of a prelude to the album with its drifting piano coursing through tremolo strings, synth pads and minor key squalls. “Ladder” is a downtempo dance anthem with a throbbing electronic bass line and chromium-plated melody.
Röyksopp are melody masters. Thudding repetition of the groove is not their thing. And sometimes, they can be pure pop, which they prove on “Breathe,” sung by Astrid S. That moment of pop sugar is actually something of a respite, however, before they drop you into “The Mourning Sun.” It’s a ghostly song emerging out of wind-blown synths and sung in an angelic boy-choir-like voice by Susanne Sundfer. It’s a hymn to the end, concluding with the lyrics:
Beyond the void
Above the surface
The mourning sun
The album ends with “Press R,” a looped track with just that phrase as a lyric. It’s a key to the multimedia presentation they have on their website. If you press R there, it opens up new songs and what they call “artifacts”, like the one pictured above. There are also custom visualizers and films for each track. The visualizers by Jonathan Zawada look like futuristic surreal art in Mobius motion. In fact, the logo for their current website is a Mobius strip, and one of the live action videos for “Impossible” features a man running from a giant yo-yo tied around his waist with a string so it keeps running him over. It continues, but doesn’t illuminate so much, retaining the ambiguity of the existential themes of Profound Mysteries.
Although Röyksopp proclaimed that their 2014 recording, The Inevitable End, was their swansong to the album format, they’ve actually returned eight years later with a quintessential concept album. It’s one where each track is fitted perfectly, flowing into the next, keeping you swinging on their electronic melodies, and in contemplation over their doom-laden lyrics. Profound Mysteries is exhilarating music to contemplate life, the universe and everything.
Absorb this one soon because Profound Mysteries II will be out mid-August.
Hear our interview with Röyksopp