Review Summary: Senior, while not Röyksopp’s best album by any means, is an ethereal journey of it’s own that should not be missed and has its own vital place in the Röyksopp discography.
Soundscape. What a deadly word when it comes to electronic music. To forgo all pop melodies, all catchy, obvious hooks, all glimpses of radio-friendly normality. So what happens when a band turns to the soundscape? They get trampled by the critics with words and phrases like forgettable (NME), pointless instrumental (Pitchfork), and thoroughly underdeveloped (PopMatters). It happens all the time, you only have to look as far as Zephyr by Basement Jaxx or Immersion by Pendulum. So how are you going to review an album already flattened by a load of reviews claiming the album is more boring than the font on its cover?
Well, it’s not too difficult when you listen to the album and feel yourself drifting away into some part of your imagination you didn’t know existed. When a instrumental song combined with a single word, a title, can draw up imagery more vivid than 99% of lyrical music. When this is Röyksopp, the Norwegian duo who combined smooth jazz with the idea of electronic and dance music and created a genre to themselves. Which by I mean a brand of electronic-pop-dance-alternative that I have shown excitedly to hard core mainstream pop-lemmings, metalheads, and indie rockers and received each time the same reaction: that wide-eyed half-smiling concentrated face of someone who has just discovered a favorite band.
This is when things get difficult. You have a fan base claiming the album is five star fantastic, and critics (except for BBC) who nominate it for the most boring album of the year, no, decade, no, century. The fans usually overrate, and the critics usually underrate (Pitchfork gave Discovery by Daft Punk a 4/10 review before calling it the second best album of the decade years later) or proclaim greatness upon something altogether ordinary. So I’m going to judge flat out on what I hope is a fair combination of my love for Röyksopp’s style and my harsh judgment on substance and creativity. Here goes, track by track.
1. …And The Forest Began To Sing: A fantastic start. The song fades in with some static-y beats, synths, and drones, and begins to build, growing brighter and brighter until it swells magnificently, and then fades softly back into the static. The sheer power and wonder of the high synths’ crescendos, the smooth wandering of the curious bass, and rough crackling production make this intro of sorts and an early highlight worth a rating of 4.5/5.
2. Tricky Two: The pointless remix as Pitchfork calls it. But this has to be one of the biggest, most infectious beats I’ve heard. Regardless of being a remix (Tricky Tricky from Junior), this song throbs and pulses with a determined thump reminiscent of midnight streets and shaking clubs. One of my top five favorite remixes ever, a fantastic flow that pulls the listener to the heart of the shifting soundscape of the album which morphs until the very last note of A Long, Long Way. Unfortunately, it overstays its welcome a bit at just under eight minutes and I’ll give it 4/5.
3. The Alcoholic: Starting with a rather generic beat, this song drops expectations to ground before evolving like crazy into a classic relaxing, full to the brim Röyksopp beat. Enter soothing melodies and beats that first showed their faces on Melody A.M., except now they’re grown up and are able to stand on their own. Very relaxing song with great guitar melodies and incorporation of sounds that seem irrelevant at first but then show themselves to be key components of a song that is a solid 4/5.
4. Senior Living: Beginning with a bit of an old waltzy clip, the song drops away to reveal what is at it’s core: a long line of Röyksopp-style soloing on several different lead instruments, beginning with a guitar and then switching to a synth, then a violin or viola, and then back to guitar. Very chilled-out song with some truly great melodies and Röyksopp bass that showcases some of the only vocals (albeit an atmospheric choral arrangement). I’m going to give this awesome session a 4.5/5.
5. The Drug: Should have been named “The Greatest Beat Ever Looped For a Ridiculous Amount of Time.” Cool beat. But really, it goes almost nowhere for almost a full six minutes. Drums enter around 1:30. Later on the synth drops. Then it comes back in. Truly a low point on the album that for some reason is the most popular song on iTunes for this album. So much for popularity, this song is no more than a 3/5. Thankfully, Röyksopp ain’t done yet.
6. Forsaken Cowboy: This is where the magic happens. Call this the perfect soundscape: It changes and shifts while maintaining a highly original beat, and the ‘actual music’ centers around the true-to-title yet high inventive and unique pairing of an acoustic guitar that actually sounds forsaken and ethereal, gentle female vocal backgrounds. It has two ‘sections’ which alternate and change only so much that you can hear infinitely more differences upon repeat listens. The best song on the album. Download this for a fair taste if you don’t want to splurge on the whole thing, because this is the only single song close to a 5/5 on the entire album.
7. The Fear: Another unfortunate almost low point. The only thing scary thing about this song is how the synth solo starting around the four-minute mark almost sound like a cheesy 80’s hair metal guitar solo, and that if only a few less major mistakes had been made (the absolute horribly unoriginal synth ‘melody’ which kicks off the song, the drawing out of melodies which turn the length over the seven minute mark) this song could have been the best on the album. It has the most power. It has the most urgency. It has a sweet guitar (or is that bass?) riff. It’s the lucky number seven on the album. But with all those mistakes, this song can only be a 4/5.
8. Coming Home: A very relaxed, slow burning soundscape that plays out like an uninterrupted daydream. Not much to say about the relaxed beat and relieved synths in this song except that it is probably the only song that would not startle you no matter how unexpectedly you blasted it into someone’s ears. A nice song, but really nothing makes it special. 3.5/5.
9. A Long, Long Way: An initially unnerving song that hovers in an extremely unique and interesting way. It is connected to no beat, just a plethora of machine-like whirs and streaks and some atmospheric pads built in for fun. It builds until arriving en masse like the epic finally of a non-cheesy science fiction movie before disintegrating anticlimactically into some pointless electronic minimalist nonsense that is the lowest point of the album. Shame to end on that note, because without that little part at the end it would have received half a point more than 4/5.
Senior: What a journey, though. There is no doubt that Senior is the very opposite of its predecessor, Junior: it is album filled with many solid songs that shines most brightly when pieced together with the whole. There are some songs that are too long for their own good. There are songs that are truly great achievements for the soundscape genre. Overall, the songs are about a 4, and the flow and unity is about a 4.5. So I guess I’m going to have to side with the fans on this one: Senior, while not Röyksopp’s best album by any means, is an ethereal journey of it’s own that should not be missed and has its own vital place in the Röyksopp discography.