Melody A.M. album cover
Melody A.M.

Röyksopp

2001
Wall Of Sound

One of the surprising benefits of late ’90s dance music being packaged under the generic trendwatcher catch-all “electronica” is that it coincided with a sample-heavy, genre-agonstic expansion that more granular categories like big beat and downtempo couldn’t quite fully encompass, even at the time. Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge were widely classified as the latter when their first album as Röyksopp dropped in 2001, but Melody A.M. perseveres because it’s a bit more than that — arriving as it did at a crossroads where the lines separating house, trip-hop, breakbeat, and retro-exotica were shifting rapidly enough to start dissolving. In retrospect, what it sounds like more than anything is an open-ended precursor to the “space disco” sound that would soon become prominent in Norwegian dance music, something a little more compact (and Kompakt) than the jumped-up big beat stuff their Wall of Sound labelmates were notorious for. Melody A.M.'s vibe starts off lighthearted and frivolous — the opening 1-2 of elevated-Muzak ether frolic “So Easy” and the Bob James-riffing bounce of “Eple” is bridged by a phone conversation where two guys discuss “good frequencies” like they’re working out a black market transaction — but it’s too good-natured to succumb to inanity, instead using its initial atmosphere of mellow good cheer to sneak in some remarkable flourishes. “In Space” boasts a harp-driven glimmer wedded to a Timbaland-caliber stutter-step you could imagine Aaliyah doing something amazing with. Kings Of Convenience’s Erlend Øye provides a key voice, serving the emotional peak of the album on the keening, lonesome, searching disco-house gut-punch of “Poor Leno” and a more hushed presence on the micro-acid “Remind Me” (which sounds crystalline and fragile while also riding off the same rollicking knockout Grady Tate drum break the Chemical Brothers used for “Chemical Beats”). And one deep cut, the 7 ½-minute “Röyksopp’s Night Out,” is the kind of sprawling, jammy, shapeshifting fusion of midtempo disco/funk/prog that Lindstrøm and Prins Thomas would soon make a definitive element of the region’s dance music.

Nate Patrin

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