Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland return to the album format, with a starry roster of vocalists along for the ride
Röyksopp were not supposed to make this album. Back in 2014, after the release of The Inevitable End, the Norwegian duo Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland turned their back on the format, preferring to work on collaborations and the successful series Lost Tapes. Yet when they resurfaced in January this year there was an apologetic confession that yes, they were working on an album once more.
Profound Mysteries, however, is a bit more than a straightforward album. Each month since their admission a new instalment from the work has been delivered, the duo collaborating with carefully chosen guests. They have accompanied each track with a video, made with a chosen director from the production company Bacon. Now, with the album release, each of the ten tracks has an accompanying visual. The question to be answered here is whether the music impresses on its own terms?
It doesn’t take long to answer in the affirmative. The duo have a lot on their mind, if the album title is taken seriously, but the music on Profound Mysteries is as good as anything they have done. The introduction, (Nothing But) Ashes, begins with a plaintive, out of tune piano, but soon the energy is flickering. We segue into The Ladder, a classy mood piece that could have been beamed in from the 1980s with its chunky synth sound and warm weather guitars. Up and running, the Norwegians slip seamlessly into electronica notable for its clarity and poise.
Electronic music of the 1980s proves a regular reference point. How The Flowers Grow inhabits a lovely warm place, with strong elements of Jean Michel Jarre and, more latterly, the Stranger Things soundtrack. The vocal collaborations work especially well. Impossible is a beauty, and while its synthesizer lines bite deeper there is a lovely bed of sound to cushion Alison Goldfrapp. Her vocal is absolutely beautiful, hitting the high notes only she can.
The distinctive tones of Susanne Sundfør bring clarity to If You Want Me and The Mourning Sun. The first of these is laden with regret but is managed like a club track. “All these complicated fears equal complicated tears,” she sings on a sad banger where bubbling synths rise and fall in response to her beautiful voice. For the second collaboration, Sundfør gets textures the listener will want to dive into, evoking a sun-kissed shore.
While they often skirt the poolside, Röyksopp prove capable of taking us straight to the centre of the dancefloor. This Time, This Place is a Balearic classic in waiting, a no nonsense club track with the requisite whooshes and breaks. Initially monotone, it switches effortlessly when Beki Mari‘s vocals arrive, descending into an epic breakdown. The attractive oscillations of Breathe are complemented by a bumpy drum track and a dreamy contribution from Astrid S.
We should be glad Röyksopp chose to return to the album format, as they have delivered a fine piece of work here, both profound and mysterious. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another eight years for the next one.