Royksopp’s Disarming, Understated Farewell to the Album Format

Katherine St. Asaph

By Katherine St. Asaph

on 11.11.14 in Features
‘Röyksopp as an albums act were always an iffy proposition. As a singles act, though, they’ve always produced flashes of brilliance.’

The Inevitable End is supposedly Röyksopp‘s farewell album, so it’s strange that they open it with an invitation to their world. “Skulls,” the lead single, is spooky, surely — its release before Halloween was likely no coincidence — but more properly, it’s apocalyptic; if it were a literal invitation, the edges would char as you read. Röyksopp’s trademark breaks are paired with vocoders that roar forth like ersatz horsemen of the Apocalypse, or at least Daft Punks of the Kraftwerk.

The Norwegian duo’s farewell is not to music, necessarily, so much as to the album format. But then again, the album format is coming to its inevitable end for anyone not named Taylor Swift, and Röyksopp merely put it more bluntly than most. Also, Röyksopp as an albums act were always an iffy proposition. For about a decade now they’ve struggled to differentiate themselves: First from the world’s Airs and Zero 7s (circa Melody A.M. ) then from the world’s Kleerups and other Scando dance acts (Junior, Senior), and lately from the veritable glut of acts dabbling in and/or pioneering synthpop, downtempo revival, post-dubstep and sounds otherwise adjacent to Röyksopp. As a singles act, though, they’ve always produced flashes of brilliance (and easier quick purchases); it’s no coincidence that Do It Again, their near filler-free collaboration with Robyn from earlier this year, was a mini album. Inevitable end? Inevitable refactoring, more like.

“Skulls” is also a good deal darker than anything Röyksopp’s released in years. You can find hints of shadow in their earlier music, but only hints: the hanging-on-tenterhooks beginning of The Understanding cut “49 Percent,” or the heartbreak lurking beneath “The Girl and the Robot.” The mood on End isn’t consistent, as Röyksopp throw in a few pop concessions — the rising Swedish art-pop star Susanne Sundfor lends emotive turns to “Save Me” and “Running to the Sea.” But “Sordid Affair,” which resembles a Random Access Memories brooder with a 10th of the budget, or haunted instrumental “Coup de Grace” are representative of the overarching mood. The Irrepressibles’ Jamie McDermott, whose guttural breathiness heats up “Here She Comes Again” and the vampire-Balearic “Compulsion,” provides the ideal vocal complement.

Meanwhile, frequent collaborator Robyn reprises Do It Again‘s most melancholy track, “Monument,” in crunchier (and more radio-suitable) style, but it’s on “Rong” where she stuns. Coming off her Body Talk series, she’s threatened to become a chirpy presence, a meme of her former self; but on “Rong” she’s present for barely two and a half minutes and exactly two lines, near-muttered: “What the fuck is wrong with you?/ You’re just so fucking wrong.” The arrangement is claustrophobic, a series of hospital-room bloops giving way to requiem strings. The effect’s almost too intimate, like overhearing a conversation between two people whose contempt has set in too firmly to even fight. It’s not playing against type for Robyn, per se — as an emoter, she’s near-unparalleled — but it is uncommonly understated, as is most of The Inevitable End. Perhaps Röyksopp were never a band to make grand statements; disarming moments are enough.