From vinyl to tape to CDs to streaming — music distribution, like any industry wherein the romanticization of craftsmanship yields to innovative practicality, has always been very conscious of and (generally) embracing of new technology. But despite the jump from physical to digital, what has remained consistent throughout it all is the focus on the album. Artists who only release singles or EPs, both entirely valid, whatever that may mean, musical outputs are first and foremost judged by the release of the debut album. While projects circulate around and between albums (or stall entirely; lookin’ at you, Dre), the album still remains a credible benchmark of success: can you put together a catalog of songs that will sound good together? Does it flow? Does it have to do so? What’s the story? The album is music at its most finished, or at least, polished, and most recognizable form. (How many singles covers can you call out from memory? Now, think albums.)
Which is why the news that The Inevitable End, Norwegian duo Röyksopp’s fifth album, would be its final one, was so devastating, despite their follow-up announcement that they’d still be releasing music under the moniker. Sure, their previous release had been a collaboration EP with Swedish pop star/immortal nymph Robyn, and some of their best tracks aren’t even on albums anyway, but the music world felt the intrinsic symbolic loss.
Perhaps the loss would be more keenly felt if The Inevitable End wasn’t such a thoughtful, even album, a greatest hits without the schlocky stringing-together that often fuels such efforts. Röyksopp “announced” TIE‘s existence by releasing a new version of Robyn collaboration “Monument”: gone were the sultry sax and vocal focus and in went buoyant, frenetic energy that played with and over the vocals.
That same energy, a trademark of the duo’s sound (a heavier, weirder and oftentimes darker take on electronic music than most of their contemporaries’), is dialed up and down on throughout TIE. On album opener “Skulls,” the beat is relentless, hammer strikes of tension that punch the eardrum. Voices blurred by distortion drone “We will be the arms that lift you up and we will be the hand that strikes you down,” setting an uneasy, introspective tone for the rest of the album.
How Röyksopp expresses that tone without drowning TIE in soapy sentimentality is where their practiced skill comes into play. Songs like “Rong” (where a furious Robyn seethes “What the f— is [w]rong with you” on loop) and “Here She Comes Again” are blood-boilers that tap into base rages, while “Sordid Affair,” “You Know I Have To Go,” “Compulsion” and “I Had This Thing” are low-key but no less drawn tight with emotion, though only “Sordid Affair” maintains its momentum throughout the track.
“Save Me” and “Running to the Sea,” both with vocals by fellow Scandinavian Susanne Sundfør, are some of the strongest of the album, marrying melancholy vocals and lyrics with bubbly production, a technique the duo has explored and mastered in full in the rest of its discography. “Running to the Sea” in particular has a very trance-like vibe, but unlike the majority of the genre’s ultra cheesy vocal treatments, Sundfør’s is fragile and forelorn, cracking ice delivering poetic imagery: “And all is wasted in the sand / Like breaking diamonds with your hand.”
Throughout the album, Röyksopp explores the idea of letting go, whether it be of a lover or an obsession or yourself. The ultimate release: that of the album as a whole for the listener, and the closing 1-2 punch of “Coup De Grace” and “Thank You” caps off a journey that runs through and distills over a decade of steady musical output into a bittersweet curtain call.
After they released “Skulls” earlier this year, Röyksopp started sending individual links to TIE‘s tracks via an email newsletter, embedding audio and lyrics on stark pages blazoned with the words “If you wanna ride with us.” For those of us who have been listening to their music via albums, EPs, singles, b-sides, remixes, live renditions and every iteration in between, that they’re moving on is indeed inevitable, but this is far from the end.