Whether or not Royksopp's fifth studio album actually is the duo's last remains to be seen, but if 'The Inevitable End' marks a clean break with the past for Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge, few will be churlish enough to accuse them of leaving much in the locker. From the beginning, they stack atmospheres on top of one another like pages in a diary, the vocoded words of opener 'Skulls' almost the least weird contrast, running as they do above a slew of twisted, mid-tempo programming that's hardly designed to press home any of their long-standing pop credentials.
To rewind for a second, Royksopp are a pair of Norwegians who first surfaced via their 2001 début album 'Melody AM', a collection of songs that re-cast the terms of the "Chill out" from geriatric acid jazz to nerdy crate digging introspection. For that, at least, we have to be thankful. From then, as first releases tend to do, it's cast a long shadow over their subsequent work, despite them re-locating their core sound in non-adjacent canyons. Occasionally, that has meant that since they've produced flashes of absolute brilliance - tracks such as 'Circuit Breaker' from 'The Understanding', or the rosy cheeked funk of 'Junior''s signature tune 'Happy Up Here' - without, however, quite consistently reproducing 'Melody AM''s simple genius. In the summer, they announced that this record would be their last in this format, buoyed by the commercial success of their recent five track outing with Robyn 'Do It Again', one on which the Swedish singer proved to be their almost perfect muse.
Unsurprisingly, then she turns up here as well, both on the moody house of 'Running To The Sea' and also on 'Monument', 'Do It Again''s lesson in epic solemnity, this time re imagined in a more orthodox format. Brundtland has talked about 'The Inevitable End' being in possession of what he describes as a "Dark energy", but its emotions are generally less complex than that; chiefly being drifting melancholy. Only on 'Rong' do things get weird on us, courtesy of Robyn again, this time dead panning her way through the refrain, "What the f**k is wrong with you?", over a series of strung-out bleeps which eventually give way to strings. It's out of character, but this wouldn't be a goodbye without the odd bridge being burned out.
In essence, 'The Inevitable End' is much more about ambiguity than any desire for radical action. There are places where love affairs disappear to the horizon (the saccharine understatement of 'You Know I Have To Go', with admittedly haunting guest vocals from Jamie Irrepressible) and of guilt-strewn regret ('Sordid Affair' and then the gleaming, lovelorn brilliance of 'I Had This Thing'), but throughout the duo are content to work within themselves: too often their production is unambitious, resulting in music that sounds attractive - the trickling minimalism of 'Compulsion' being a prime example - but end up being frustratingly unremarkable.
'Compulsion' is part of a closing triptych (Along with 'Coup de Grace' and closer 'Thank You') that sees the pair drift gradually off course, the atmosphere blurring into a drowsy ambience that borders on enervation. It's never quite Muzak of course, but the long harboured suspicion that the real dark matter which exists in both their heads hasn't ever truly been seen yet still naggingly persists, as well as the similarly frightening conclusions about what that could mean. But these misgivings are for another day. 'The Inevitable End' starts from the false premise that it actually is one, but recovers from that feint to be as good as any Royksopp album since 'Melody AM'. New dawns beckon: off the leash, we may finally see creative freedom finally ripping the doors of perception off their collective hinges. That will be a moment worth waiting for.
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