Some albums can be judged by their covers.
Cast even a casual eye over the cover art of Melody A.M, the sublime debut from Norwegian duo Röyksopp, and you get an appreciation of what lies ahead. The colours in the clouds look sumptuous and sensual in the way they fold and layer over each other, the warm golden afterglow of possibly an autumn’s day. If you’re into pareidolia, you don’t have to look long before you see a baby elephant’s face smiling, with its trunk aloft. The image suggests there’s a playfulness to these cinematic, at times ethereal songs, something universal but personal too.
Röyksopp is childhood friends Torbjorn Bruntland and Svein Berge. They grew up and met in Tromso, in northern Norway, known for its northern lights as well as being the land of the midnight sun where during the middle months of the year, the sun never sets. It makes sense that in Melody A.M, they made an album for an extended day of chilling and daydreaming.
During a 2005 interview with Briljanteen Bruntland explained his perception of the impact of Röyksopp’s music on audiences.
"I think people find our music to contain something that they don’t know, yet, something familiar, something that feels like they’ve known for some time and that’s probably an effect of the fact that we are from a place that people don’t know much about". Berge adding, "The fact that we come from Norway might be regarded as exotic….People wouldn’t expect the type of music we make.. to be made by two Norwegians, that's something we’ve heard all the time."
Whilst the album's light touches and openness give you a sound palette to imagine endless skies, rolling clouds and frosty mountainous climes, there were also more unusual childhood experiences that inspired their curiosities. In an interview with Hi-Fi Scenen Bruntland recounted, "I remember finding some sort of abandoned military bunker up in Tromso and climbing down, and it was this huge hole which had that long reverb…like if you drop a stone down [the reverb] would last one minute…like kkkeerrrssscchhhheee….the scope of that still gives me goose bumps thinking about it."
Aside from their earliest musical influences like Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode, the Röyksopp partnership has made sure to keep their ears open to a variety of stimuli. Reflecting on Melody A.M’s making to DJ Mag in 2015, Berge explained the pair’s approach, "It's the way we always thought we should make music, to allow ourselves to be inspired by musical genres that are not necessarily related to electronic music or club music. We are just as inspired by progressive rock and country music and RnB as we are Detroit techno and deep house. So for us it’s just a matter of blending all these things together, but without making the references so obvious."
Kings of Convenience singer Erlend Oye lends 'Poor Leno' and 'Remind Me' his dandy charm and Anneli Drecker injects a little trip hop soulfulness into the scratchy 'Sparks'. 'So Easy', with its dreamy lyrical meandering "who are you, now that we are through", samples the Bacharach/David song ‘Blue on Blue’. It's given some crunchy percussive flourishes and a spacey 60s ambience that’s befitting of its title and aptly, was made on a vintage ATARI computer, as Berge explained to DJ Mag.
Part of the secret of the uniqueness of their sound is in keeping things simple. Bruntland remarked to DJ Mag that, "people expect us to have more special equipment than what we really have...its sparse and we love that, we love the limitation that forces creativity." Berge elaborates, "The way that we have always worked is that we have a very limited amount of equipment — a lot of outboard analogue stuff…Stuff that we bought when we were kids, we still use that — we know it and love it. It was quite a lo-fi thing for us in that respect. It was recorded on the same equipment that we still use."
Further limitations by way of the small independent label budget to promote their record and a distrust of music media meant that Röyksopp had to consider other means to get their music heard. "We thought being two unknown Norwegians making electronic music, mainly instrumental music...it wasn’t that easy for us to go to a radio station or a radio plugger and say 'please play our music'". Instead, they opted to take up offers from advertising companies to use their music for selected campaigns. The decision to proceed in this fashion, much like that of Moby’s for his 1999 record Play, proved to be successful, lucrative and suited to their philosophy. Berge explains, "Having your music in an ad is cleaner, there’s less politics as with radio…I always thought it strange that people are so opposed to the ad thing, it seems like a pretty relic mentality… it doesn’t take anything away from the music I think."
Listening to Melody A.M’s, distinct analogue textures and widescreen sensibilities, one can see how the songs easily lend themselves to working well with imagery. Fortunately, they retain enough quirky charm to entice us to insert our own imagined and personalized adventures and roam happily adrift within it.