The electronic music that comes from the North of Europe has always been distinct, as if echoing the terrains of its point of origin. Icy and ethereal, there’s a sort of primordial mysticism that can be felt in The Knife or Jenny Hval, or the pitch perfect emotional alchemy of Robyn. Björk. Amongst the most prolific of this Northern guard are Norwegian duo Röyksopp, who since the early 2000’s have become synonymous with crafting the sort of time-space bending soundscapes and electronic atmospherics that undulate like the Northern Lights themselves. Forever at the forefront of ingenious evolution it was perhaps, well, inevitable that their fifth album, 2014’s The Inevitable End, was touted as their final “in traditional format.” The duo would go on to explore alternate methods of releasing music, from publishing their archives to scoring works of theatre and film. Still, The Inevitable End left most hoping that this was not the true end of Röyksopp as we know it because while serviceable, the collection didn’t quite feel like a suitable conclusion to a catalog synonymous with innovation. Cut to 2022, and here we are with a new Röyksopp album. Though calling Profound Mysteries an ‘album’ per-se doesn’t feel quite right. That’s one part of an overall vision with multiple moving parts that includes film, visual art, and an interactive website. It’s a multifaceted multimedia endeavour that looks to expand the concept of Profound Mysteries beyond the music and into the experiential. The concept in question involves the universe itself, the eponymous ‘profound mystery.’ So, in essence, this is not a traditional album.
It’s necessary to note that the video art and imagery of Profound Mysteries, encapsulating as they may be, are mostly non-essential to actually accessing the music. These are more of an expansion pack to aid in experiencing the music, not something intrinsic to unlocking the core of the album itself. It’s no secret that Röyksopp’s work outside of traditional format albums have often been their most interesting and influential, and by framing Profound Mysteries as something beyond this format, they’ve allowed themselves the latitude to create a body of work in a less constrained way. As such, Profound Mysteries may possibly be one of their strongest LP’s in years, a sprawling endeavour that takes Röyksopp back to their ambient adjacent roots while also touching on their angular techno experiments. Opening with an introductory ambient overture, the album melts into The Ladder, a spacey, wordless synthpop odyssey that sounds a bit like elevator music if the elevator in question was your acid trip catapulting you to cosmic heights. This is followed by the four on the flour kick of Impossible, and those deliciously grubby Röyksopp synths that conjure feelings of skating the jagged slopes of a glacier. Here, the first instance of lyrics comes courtesy of Alison Goldfrapp. Her syrupy cadence mingles with Röyksopp’s spacey drones, a perfect pairing that we’re surprised hasn’t come sooner. Like a spirit guide, her siren call pulls you further into the fabric of Profound Mysteries with nothing more than six words. She’s easily the most successful guest vocalist on the album next to Susanne Sundfør, who’s meditative and prayer-like delivery on the drone symphony of The Mourning Sun is another standout.
Often, Röyksopp really do reach for the profound. Sometimes they get close, Impossible and The Mourning Sun being two cases in point. But other times, things feel a touch overwrought. This is the case with If You Want Me, which is almost Italo in its soapy grandiosity. Similarly, Pixx’s spoken word on How The Flowers Grow feels extraneous over otherwise nuanced and gorgeously textured production that oscillates between drones, chopped choral loops, and ominous bass rumbles. Between these moments, Profound Mysteries veers close to the realm of melodic and minimal tech. Breathe is an introspective tech-house slow-burner that sounds like Röyksopp’s contribution to an All Day I Dream compilation while This Time, This Place… is a more successful exploration of the style. A piece of minimal progressive techno, the song flips tempo at its climax. It’s an unexpected move that’s Röyksopp at their best. There, Beyond The Trees is one of the album’s strongest moments. A melding of both form and concept, it’s the closest the duo get to the profound. Quiet, yet thrumming with energy, There, Beyond The Trees flows with a primal consciousness through its mix of organic and electronic percussion, ambient washes, and glowing, ebbing synth modulations. The track finishes with bright drones, a cosmic humming that feels like laying down for a savasana after a particularly cathartic ashtanga session. Pensive, immersive, and spiritual. The experience is stunning.
Returning to the album format after forsaking it is an unexpected diversion for an act that has been so vehement in their convictions, but Profound Mysteries is a welcome return to form. There’s a sense that Röyksopp may be learning to take the lessons learned from their post-album phase into crafting LPs for the here and now. Profound Mysteries is a body of work that can be streamed as much as experienced. Full of moments that take the duo back to their points of origin, Profound Mysteries succeeds in ushering in a new era of Röyksopp, one that marries the past with the present in order to look toward the future.
Watch the Profound Mysteries continuous visual experience below, directed by Jonathan Zawada.