Röyksopp’s home country, Norway, boasts one of the highest GDPs and standards of living on Earth. With the rest of the world collapsing around them, calling their first single “Happy Up Here” sounds about right. The track even begins with the sound of their own laughter. But while Röyksopp’s Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge don’t lack for happiness, they do lack for resonance. The duo know their brand of electronic music — light, frothy synths, rubbery beats — comes off a little vacuous. So they’ve brought in some of Scandinavia’s best female vocalists, each with her own shade of vulnerability and resilience, to add layers of complexity to Junior. Economic and public life sounds easy in Norway, but inner life remains just as fraught.
“Happy Up Here,” with its bubbly keyboard and hand-clapped beat is, like many of Röyksopp’s best tracks on 2005’s The Understanding, a song begging for a commercial to soundtrack. Most of the rest of Junior serves as counterpoint to its frivolity. “The Girl And The Robot,” featuring Sweden’s Robyn, introduces the main conflict here: relationships in which one partner remains emotionally unavailable. “I’m in love with a robot,” Robyn sings over the song’s rising and falling synth chorus. Each of the record’s other vocalists echo this. On “Miss It So Much,” Lykke Li laments her boyfriend’s “mechanical heart,” and Anneli Drecke accuses her antagonist of “hiding from yourself.” Only the Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson evolves from wounded to damaged. Her own band revels in drawing out the grotesque, and here she shakes and seethes across her two tracks. Röyksopp smartly give her the prickly “Tricky Tricky,” where she works the song’s driving, single-chord pulse into an obsessive, breakdown-inducing ritual.
Still, Röyksopp can’t match the emotive characteristics each woman brings to her own work. Nor would they want to. “All I want is keeping it easy/It’s getting it that’s complicated,” a male chorus sings on closer “It’s What I Want.” They’re aware that the desire to “keep it easy” is both charming and frivolous. Luckily the women in their life keep their feet on the ground.