Saturday, June 2, 2012

June 2: Röyksopp, "Melody A.M."

Artist: Röyksopp
Album: Melody A.M.
Year: 2001
Label: Wall Of Sound

It has been proven time and time again that without question, one of the most difficult genres in which one can succeed is that of the host of sub-genres that fall under the title “electronic music.”  From techno and house to ambient and drone, the fact that “anyone with a computer” can create music of this style leads to there being far more sub-standard representations of this style of music than that of any other musical form.  However, this same ability for “anyone” to create also works in a positive way, in that it yields some of the most unique sounds and approaches due to being able to so tightly manipulate the composition.  Yet even with all of these truths, for whatever reason, a majority of the finest representations of all of the electronic styles come from northern Europe and Scandinavia, where it seems that as the climate gets colder, the ability to create warm, mind-bending sonic textures increases proportionately.  From Björk to Zero7, it is hard to argue that the finest acts of the various down-tempo genres come this this part of the world, and in that group, one simply cannot ignore the presence of the Norwegian duo known as Röyksopp.  With an ability to execute styles across the spectrum, their debut record, 2001’s Melody A.M. remains a mainstay of the genre nearly a decade after it was first released, From almost haunting textures to some of the most beautiful, yet minimalist forays into the trip-hop/ambient sub-genre, Melody A.M. is a true musical masterpiece, and the it remains in a class all its own to this day.

All across Melody A.M., the listener gets drawn further and further into the deep, ambient tones, ad it is one of the most truly immersive records ever created.  In fact, it is one of the few albums of this style to find even moderate chart success, and it would eventually be named the greatest Norwegian album of the entire decade.  Musically, the entire album is pure “chill-out” bliss, as the soft textures deployed by Torbørn Brundtland and Svein Berge instantly set them far above the cavalcade of electronic acts that filled the genre in the early years of the “oughts.”  With an opening groove that instantly grabs the listener, it helps to set a perfect stage for a sound and mood that simply defy description.  This goes further, as the overall sound of songs like “Sparks” almost feel like a throwback to the 1970’s; as the warm, relaxed tone of the song begs for smoke-filled rooms with shag carpeting.  Keeping the album exciting and engaging, the duo manage to make even more upbeat rhythms and tones fit perfectly within the overall mix, and the flow of the album is never pushed off course for even a moment.  It is the way in which the duo intertwine their delicate sonic subtleties into these varied rhythms that serves as a testament to their true musical genius, and shows just how much diversity one can find within the genre.  Further displaying their talents, Röyksopp add in some of the funkiest basslines in the history of the genre, and this fantastic groove is yet another aspect that sets Melody A.M. far apart as a “classic” album.

While there is no question that the music found all across Melody A.M. would have made it a classic of the ambient genre, it is the fact that Röyksopp ups the ante even further by adding in the stunning voice of Anneli Drecker and others.  Though Drecker had already been recording with “dream-pop” veterans Bel Canto for more than two decades, her appearance here on “Sparks” stands as one of her finest performances.  With a voice that is just as smooth and captivating, if not moreso, as the music, Drecker gently rocks the listener, into a mesmerizing, almost ethereal state of mind.  Röyksopp have also put a slight distortion on her voice at times on the album, and it manages to make her sound even more fused together with the overall sound, as the gloss that it gains perfectly completes the overall mood.  It is the fact that her voice is never too far in front of the mix, nor buried behind it, that makes it so alluring, as it seems to almost float across the musical passages.  The final piece to this overwhelming beauty is the lyrics, penned by both Drecker and the duo, depending on the song.  Though usually somewhat simple, they are all brilliantly crafted, and again add far more to the overall mood of the track.  It is the deep, sincere feelings that overflow within the few vocal passages on Melody A.M. that prove just how far beyond their peers Röyksopp were, and in the years that have followed, no other performer has been able to duplicate this stunning balance of sounds and textures.

Achieving an entire song that, in every aspect, defines the term “beautiful” is a nearly impossible task, as there is always some small part of the song that must be “forgiven.”  Yet all across their debut record, the Norwegian electronic duo known as Röyksopp make it look almost easy the fact that nearly every track on the album has a mood and tone that has never been equaled. Rooted by some of the most bewitching sonic landscapes ever put together, the songs instantly pull the listener into the delicate, yet vast spaces, and it remains one of the greatest “chill-out” albums ever composed.  The addition of the vocal presence of Anneli Drecker and others truly pushes the songs over the edge, and one can search the entire history of the ambient sub-genre, and you’ll simply never find another grouping of tracks that quite measure up to the overall impact of Melody A.M. While the album was somewhat lost within the seemingly endless string of sub-par electronic acts, there is no question that it stands as one of the genre’s finest, and is easily worthy of the awards and accolades it was given.  Whether they are spinning an almost dizzying rhythm, or slowing things down to a crawl, the duo never mis-step, and the flow of this record truly knows no equal.  The blissful sonic textures that result in a fantastically warm mood, all capped off by the consistently stunning vocal work creates the recipe for ambient perfection, and that is why more than a decade after its release, Melody A.M. remains unrivaled and a true classic of the entire electronic genre.

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