Music Times writers share an office area of roughly 45 sq. ft, which makes having face-to-face conversations totally impossible. Junk Mail is these millennials attempt to discuss and review the week's hottest album releases... without needing to look at each other.
This week: Ryan Book, Caitlin Carter, and Joey DeGroot e-mail back and forth about Robyn & Röyksopp's Do It Again.
Ryan Book: No doubt that this conversation will touch on the more experimental sides of Röyksopp, but let me open from the populist end: Few electronic acts walk a finer line between the mainstream and experimental sides of the genre like this Swedish duo. Röyksopp will probably never reach for the extremes of fellow Swedes The Knife. But, to be fair, it probably won't ever be 100 percent pop house like Avicii either.
There's the potential for both, but Röyksopp hangs out in the middle. Do It Again ranges from the lengthy, arty outro of "Monument" to the short blast of pure pop that is the title track.
Media has misrepresented this album as Robyn's, but Röyksopp is the headliner here, with their pop counterpart adding to the mix on four of the five tracks. Popular EDM DJ's feature a litany of pop stars to add lyrics to their instrumental offerings, so featuring Robyn on every track makes this a much more salient and digestible compilation.
Joey DeGroot: This is definitely the most excited I've been for one of our Junk Mail reviews. Robyn's last album Body Talk is one of the best pop albums of the decade, so I was dying to see what she was going to do next. I'm glad she chose to work with Röyksopp again, because their previous collaboration, the brooding dance track "None of Dem," was definitely the darkest and weirdest song from Body Talk, so it was obvious that she was going in a more experimental direction. I've always thought of Robyn as Björk's poppier counterpart, but with Do It Again, she seems to be moving closer to Björk's abstract sound, which she handles rather nicely.
Caitlin Carter: I agree with Ryan about this being more of a Röyksopp album with a Robyn feature than a Robyn album, save for the poppy "Do It Again." For some reason I was really intrigued by "Sayit." Was she trying to teach a robot to lust after her? It almost seems like a perfect metaphor for the sound of the album: the spawn of humans and robots.
RB: "Sayit" was a song made for the dance floor but it avoided the tropes of the title track. As Joe mentioned with Robyn's Body Talk trio, she's a performer who has no qualms with taking a new approach to products that would fit just fine in the Top 40. By new approach I mean "playing vocal Simon Says with a robot." Plus, the single "Fembot" off of Body Talk Pt. 1 displays an interest in artificial intelligence...if not at the Her level.
(PS: Joe sees Robyn as the mainstream version of Björk...I've always seen Robyn as the alternative version of P!nk.)
JD: Robyn's also the alternative version of Lady Gaga, only less pretentious. The fact that she's not as well known in this country as Gaga, or even Pink, completely baffles me. Of course, Do It Again might be a little too arty to connect with mainstream audiences (two of the songs are ten minutes long, after all), but it's very easy to imagine a song like the title track becoming a Hot 100 hit. "Sayit," on the other hand, probably won't be in too many commercials, but that's what I enjoyed about Do It Again: it satisfied my need for both pop music and weirdo indie music.
CC: I would argue that indie-electro-pop is sort of coming into the mainstream with DJ's featuring ethereal-pop sounding female vocalists all the time now. I guess mainstream is a a loaded term, though. To me, if it would be played in a club it's mainstream... but I suppose radio play might be the actual signifier. All of that is to say, I can see "Do It Again" being played at Marquee or something and people going crazy for it.
RB: I'm gonna drop back and look at the opening track, which definitely wasn't meant for FM radio...in terms of pace or length. "Inside The Idle Hour Club" might seem like the best playground for Röyksopp as its entirely instrumental, but "Monument" better represents the duo's creativity. The sampling of their guest's voice into a beat of its own, the saxophone that appears intermittently during different bridges, the African percussion that takes the song out...It's a victory for electronic music when you can listen to three-minute passages that feel this natural, especially without vocals.
JD: I agree with Ryan, "Monument" ended up being my favorite song on the album, and it's the best example of Röyksopp and Robyn combining their strengths. It has that menacing, vaguely exotic beat and stuttering production, which reminded me a lot of Autechre, and the album's single best hook ("All with love *buh-duh-duh-duh* love *buh-duh-duh-duh* love..."), not to mention the darkest and most mature lyrics Robyn's ever written. Though the pop songs on Do It Again aren't as brilliant as anything on Body Talk, the more progressive sound of "Monument" works beautifully.
CC: "Monument" was awesome. I'm a sucker for a good horn section, and it was a pleasant surprise to see it utilized on a darker, more electronic album. I loved the line "This will be my monument/ This will be a beacon when I'm gone," as a metaphor for music/art allowing her to live on after she's dead. She is telling the critics to "make room for my body" as a force to be reckoned with in the pop world.
RB: That's deep. I just figured she was talking about a grave. Kind of like Twilight's counterintuitive album title Monument to Time End.
CC: Although the pairing of Röyksopp an Robyn is not unexpected, Robyn's role on the record came as a surprise. She stepped into the background but when she was featured, came out strong. From a production aspect, I thought it worked very well. From a "will this see the light of day on radio"/marketing standpoint, it will probably stay a hidden gem for those who dig dark, indie-pop.
JD: Though Do It Again doesn't achieve the same pop bliss as Body Talk, it's not exactly reaching for that bliss, either. It's a step in a completely different direction. Robyn brushed up against mainstream success in America when she toured with Katy Perry back in 2011, and though this new album probably won't get her any closer, she did what most pop singers never do: follow her artistic instincts, no matter how inaccessible the results might be.
Also, I feel like I gave Röyksopp the short end of the stick here, so I just want to say that they're awesome, too, and I'll be checking out more of their stuff in the future. I was just really excited to hear from Robyn again.
RB: The pairing of electronic performers with other popular acts can make for album gold, but unfortunately we only get brief pairings for the most part with modern EDM. I'm not suggesting that Do It Again is on par with David Byrne/Brian Eno's My Time In The Bush Of Ghosts, but it's enough of a statement that hopefully some other acts take heed.
What did you think of the album? Let us know in the comments section below!